Social Problems, written in 1883, was more than a perceptive analysis of the problems of society not only of the United States but the world at the time. It revealed the root cause of the social ills that still afflict us today.
Henry George warned that unless the system of land tenure was reformed, unless the individual’s freedom of action was enhanced, even graver ecological, economic, moral and ethical problems would plague future generations. The scale of the problems have increased.
He noted the despoiling of nature and warned of ‘the destructive character of our agriculture which is year by year decreasing the productiveness of our soil, and lessening the area of land available for the support of our increasing millions.’
‘We have made,’ George said, ‘and still are making, enormous advances on material lines.’ But he added, ‘it is necessary that we commensurately advance on moral lines. Civilization, as it progresses, requires a higher conscience, a keener sense of justice, a warmer brotherhood, a wider loftier, truer public spirit. Failing these, civilization must pass into destruction.’
George recognised that the solution of our problems can be found in studying the laws of nature. ‘The domain of law is not confined to physical nature,’ he said: ‘It just as certainly embraces the mental and moral universe, and social growth and social life have their laws as fixed as those of matter and motion.’
He was in advance of his times in urging the equality of women, arguing that ‘we could in no way so increase the attention, the intelligence and the devotion which may be brought to the solution of social problems as by enfranchising our women.’
He pointed the way towards freeing the vast productive forces of labour and technology, and ensuring a more equitable distribution of wealth. To achieve these ends, the right to land – the first of our inalienable rights – must be secured for all. He makes no plea for the equal distribution of land (or the enforced redistribution of wealth), but argues that land not in use be thrown open to those who wish to use it, while land in use be paid for according to its value as bare land to prevent hoarding and speculation.
Outline Contents: The increasing importance of social questions, Political dangers, Two opposing tendencies, The march of concentration, The wrong in existing social conditions, That we all might be rich, First principles, The rights of Man, Over-production, Unemployed labour, The effects of machinery, Public debts and indirect taxation, The first great reform.
Keywords: Land value taxation, Henry George, Fair society