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Progress and Poverty    – Henry George

Progress and Poverty (1879), sold millions of copies worldwide, probably more than any other American book before that time. The treatise investigates the paradox of increasing inequality and poverty amid economic and technological progress, the cyclic nature of industrialized economies, and the use of rent capture such as land value tax and other anti-monopoly reforms as a remedy for these and other social problems.

Henry George (September 2, 1839 – October 29, 1897) was an American political economist, journalist, and philosopher. His immensely popular writing is credited with sparking several reform movements of the Progressive Era, and inspiring the broad economic philosophy known as Georgism, based on the belief that people should own the value they produce themselves, but that the economic value derived from land (including natural resources) should belong equally to all members of society.

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He was a strong critic of railroad and mining interests, corrupt politicians, land speculators, and labor contractors. He first articulated his views in an 1868 article entitled “What the Railroad Will Bring Us.” George argued that the boom in railroad construction would benefit only the lucky few who owned interests in the railroads and other related enterprises, while throwing the greater part of the population into abject poverty. This had led to him earning the enmity of the Central Pacific Railroad’s executives, who helped defeat his bid for election to the California State Assembly 

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On a visit to New York City, he was struck by the apparent paradox that the poor in that long-established city were much worse off than the poor in less developed California. These observations supplied the theme and title for his 1879 book Progress and Poverty, which was a great success, selling over 3 million copies. In it George made the argument that a sizeable portion of the wealth created by social and technological advances in a free market economy is possessed by land owners and monopolists via economic rents, and that this concentration of unearned wealth is the main cause of poverty. George considered it a great injustice that private profit was being earned from restricting access to natural resources while productive activity was burdened with heavy taxes, and indicated that such a system was equivalent to slavery – a concept somewhat similar to wage slavery.

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