The more you study this question, the more you will see that the true law of social life is the law of love, and law of liberty, the law of each for all and all for each; that the golden rule of morals is also the golden rule of the science of wealth; that the highest expressions of religious truth include the widest generalizations of political economy.
So, we want you to read a book, because we have read a book and it has explained everything and has energised us to urgently and maximally pass on knowledge of this discovery.
We have tried and failed here to calm our language down, and fear that our enthusiasm reads like a get-rich-quick scheme we’re trying to sell, or some sort of life-changing self-help guide. It’s so much more. We have to try and tell everyone, because the more people get this, the better world it becomes for us to live in.
And we’re even going to begin to sound a little religious by saying that this is all about a great truth, great natural truths which have been obscured; a great truth, the failure of which to recognise and understand, and concord with, is the root of nearly all of the fundamental problems of our age and all other ages.
There is a little tension in the band about the length of this piece, it goes on too much, quicker progress should be made to the later notes, which are felt to be more interesting. But what we’re writing about in this note is the whole point of it all, to persuade people that they should read this book. Anyway, we’re following our nose doing this, if we got it all wrong how to do this, we’re sorry.
The discovery we have made is enormous in scope. As we read this book, a wonderful realisation gradually unfolded, we let it slowly set in: it is the blissfully happy happenstance that what is morally right is actually what is the most economically efficient. It’s what Americans call a no-brainer, it really is. Plainly, what is not blissfully happy, is the world we find ourselves in, and it needs to be understood precisely what’s going wrong.
But, of course, it is no happenstance, it arises naturally from undeniable ethics and morals and is as clear as a bell. The case that is made in this book is utterly unanswerable, and we want its author, Henry George, to explain it to you. And you will see where it all goes wrong. The dismal affair of how Henry George’s insight has not formed the natural order of the world is a matter we’ve becoming fascinated in, and it’s led us to these notes we’re making here.
It is such a blissfully happy revelation that we’re going to boldly say it again:
What is morally right is also that which is most economically efficient.
The interests of the individual and the interests of society are one and the same thing.
And the enormity of everything else that flows from the insights behind this realisation is what we want to interest you in.
So, we want you to read this book. The whole purpose of this website is to try to persuade you to read Progress and Poverty, by Henry George, once the third most famous American, who completed this book in 1879. Yes, 1879. And this is not an easy task we’ve taken on, not so many people read books these days, there are many other distractions. For many it’s the pressure of just keeping a living together.
The whole idea of reading a book, following something over pages and pages and pages, is maybe not so widespread as it used to be. We really value reading books and following something for a while. But just words on a page, this is not easy to sell to people who wouldn’t tend to read books. It’s probably unlikely that people who wouldn’t tend to read books are going to be reading this, but maybe they liked one of the tunes and were curious. We must hope so.
And not only is this a book, it’s a book about economics. How sexy is that? Economics has been termed the dismal science. We’ve come to understand that it’s by explicit design that it is dismal, as it serves well to stop people taking any interest in it or believing they could have any understanding of it. But we really should, because we, the people of the Earth, are being denied our natural rights and royally and chronically cheated. It’s most definitely not a dismal science in Henry George’s hands, he reveals the beautiful simplicity of it.
In its day, three million copies of this book were sold, so maybe 15 million or more souls read it, maybe many more. It was translated into at least 27 languages. Among books of nonfiction, for many decades its sales in the USA were exceeded only by the Bible.
Obviously, these were different days and it’s hard to imagine this happening today, an economist writing a popular book read by millions of ordinary people. What is the difference between then and now? Can it be that people of the late 19th, early 20th century, realised more starkly that politics and economics are important, in that they are why your life is like it is? Or is it that, these days, politics and economics have been so mystified, so that ordinary people are dissuaded from querying it?
This book is about how and why the world should and could be a truly just world. How it could be as wonderful and true as, it seems to us, people always, somewhere inside, feel that it should be; though Henry George lamented:
There are people into whose heads it never enters to conceive of any better state of society than that which now exists.
And this is so much more the case now, because a consensus view has been long established among all those who rule us, that most people have just stopped thinking about and questioning now, or never ever began. The real questions disappeared from the agenda some time ago.
What needs to be shown is that this consensus comes from a distorted and corrupted way of looking at economics. This consensus, which has prevailed over the last century or so, ever advancing its twisted logic, has produced massive extremes in wealth and poverty which is explained to be a natural result of competition in a free market.
There is the correct way of looking at economics, which Henry George describes, which gives everybody their fair share of nature’s bounty, to which they have as much moral right as anyone else. It’s impossible for us to think of anything more important than this.
We think you will see it is simultaneously the most revolutionary thing you have ever heard and the most sensible thing you have ever heard, and that it is perfect justice. A revolution without shock, without tears, without action, save for some slight administrative adjustments, a small change with a massively liberating effect. We’ll not tell you what it is yet – and we’ll tell you why in a moment - you have to read the book. It’s maybe not easy to accept at the moment, but this will likely be the most important, or maybe second most important, book that you will read.
You won’t need any understanding of politics and economics to be able to read and understand this book, and you will need no taste for such matters to be able to enjoy this book.
It is the perversions of economics which make it sound complicated. Henry George will lay bare for you the true simplicity of it. Read this book and you will be empowered. You will be empowered, at least, in that you will understand what’s going on, how the world has been working. We want Henry George to light the fire in you that he has in us.
George is a beautiful writer who will take you along with him, and his goal is to explain what he knows to everyone. His granddaughter, Agnes de Mille, who wrote a stirring piece about her grandfather, Who Was Henry George? says that his writing has been compared to the very greatest works of the English language. In years gone by, Oxford University’s English Literature department have used it as a model of the finest prose.
Apart from the world-moving content of the book, the sudden arrival of a master of such a wonderful style of English prose caused considerable stir in the literary world. It was a marvel that a self-educated man, who never ever could spell very well, could rise to such heights.
Albert Nock, in his account of George’s life, quotes some scraps of his diary that he kept on ship when he was seventeen, which he says show the same clear, precise and lovely English at seventeen that he did at forty.
And Nock says of these scraps:
When a boy of seventeen turns off such English as that, day after day, for his own eye only, no one should be surprised at what he does for the public eye at forty. It is not easy to hit just that blend of precision, clearness, simplicity and grace — let the reader try it. George never wrote a sentence that needed a second reading to tell not only what it meant, but the only thing it could possibly mean, or be made to mean. In this respect he stands with the most formidable champion of the established order that he ever had to face — Professor Huxley — and with all its force of clearness and precision, his style has also a grace of warmth and color which Huxley’s has not.
And we read on a blog, someone talking about reading Progress and Poverty said that a friend of his:
characterized it as a page-turner, a mystery whose solution she anxiously sought.
That’s exactly how we felt about it.
Kris Feder, in her preface to the 1998 abridged editor of Progress and Poverty, speaks of how George:
builds his case slowly, probing towards the truth with Socratic innocence. So, we will not deprive the reader of the intended suspense by revealing George’s conclusion at the outset.
And we took our lead from this, and resolved not to deprive the reader of the intended suspense. And more so because we think Henry George’s clear and thorough examination is crucial to understand, it really is better he told you about it.
If it’s so true, why do we insist that it’s so important that he tells you? If it’s such a clear and obvious truth, why can’t we just come out and say it?
In fact, the basic idea is beautifully simple and it can be expressed in a few sentences, but it’s such an important idea that it demands to be not only explained, it needs to be proved. It needs to be a book – it’s not a long book – to give Henry George the space to shine light upon and thoroughly examine these crucial pieces in the jigsaw that is human society. He tests ideas, and he invites you along to test them with him, so that the point is properly understood. From that point, we’ve found that understanding just increases naturally. From such a simple insight, the imagination starts to boggle about how the world could really be.
And as well as this, if that isn’t enough, it is such a wonderfully written book, that it is a precious thing to preserve that you may experience its wonder with no preconceptions whatsoever. Let him start from the beginning and let him build his case, for he is the master prosecutor of injustice. We do urge the reader to abstain from searching for anything about Henry George at this point, just download the book from the link at the foot of this page. Please read Progress and Poverty in complete innocence without any preconception.
But this need to protect you from his remedy, so that Henry George can explain and that we don’t spoil the intended suspense, has caused us, in subsequent pages, to substitute a certain word that occurs sometimes, a certain word that may appear in a quote next to another certain word. On these occasions, we replace this word with a word like just or legitimate. This became clumsier as we went along.
Of course, it is quite an ask to ask someone to read a book just because we say so, and it’s really something we’re still surprised to find ourselves exhorting you to do.
Maybe you don’t read books very much, maybe you never read books. But if you’re only going to read one book ever, make it this one, because this really is the book that explains everything in the way it really needs to be understood.
In saying this, there is no disrespect intended toward any religion and their books, but we can have our opinion, as well, and we feel that if there is a God, then surely the very best way of honouring God would be to make the very best of the world we were given, to share the world justly and in peace. For us, this book is the key to that, and the first book into any enquiry about the world, the physical world where we are at the moment.
It really won’t be a burden to read this one book. It’s such an interesting book on so many levels, as a snapshot of the history of the time. You can just approach it as an interesting book. Or you can take it as a challenge! We challenge you to read this book and not been convinced of, enriched by, the truths it contains.
The book was a nuclear explosion for us, waves of energy that are still spreading outwards. Everything about justice in the world finally understood. Everything we’d been arguing to and fro about for so long, everything made sense now. All the explanations for why people are poor, all that politicians tell us, all the assumptions we’d been brought up with, we suddenly saw through it all, saw the explanation for it all. Everything fell perfectly into place.
It had been a depressing puzzle for years, as it is for many, and as we find it was for Henry George: why is there such huge wealth and such deep poverty? What is the explanation for it? We’d heard a lot about supply and demand, but that didn’t explain it. Why are some people worth so, so many multiples of other people? And why have these multiples continued to increase? Is it that a certain strata of society are becoming worthier and worthier?
We’d heard a lot over the years about the politics of envy, but the workings of the market just didn’t explain for us the extremes in wealth and poverty that we see. But it’s nothing to do with markets; it’s the denial of markets. This book explained it, with brilliant clarity, we’re so grateful for that. Merely to understand this is strangely liberating and invigorating.
So, we came, by chance, to know this extraordinary book, Progress and Poverty. You may go into this book mindful of the fact that it was published in 1879. But as you read, you start to recognise that, in principle, he could easily have been writing about the world we inhabit now. Over the centuries, many have made the observation that it sounds like a description of the time and place they were in. In principle, nothing is different, and you may see how subsequent history bears witness to this analysis. Let Henry George unwrap it for you and, with care, take you forward.
As critic John Kieran wrote in 1942:
The style is striking; the metaphors are sparkling; the allusions are illuminating.
And so it goes on. You get the idea, we hope, that this is not going to be anything like reading an economics textbook. You’ll notice also that a lot of our quotes come from people long dead. We hope you see the illogic of disregarding something just because it’s from the past. This is from a time before the world had gone completely mad. Of course, it’s become the insistence of culture to focus obsessively on now, and even more so tomorrow, and there’s great virtue placed on being adaptable to change and to forgetting what’s past and buried. There’s a reason for this.
In the notes about Henry George himself, we examine more closely his life’s journey to this revelation. It is the story of the growth of a question in a man’s mind, that kept growing before his eyes. And he vowed to solve the riddle, and made it his life’s meaning to make good what he’d found to be in error. Henry George couldn’t help but notice the partnership of progress and poverty. He saw that every place that an economic centre becomes established, when it reaches a certain point in its development there then starts appearing poverty and misery and all that comes with that. He says:
It is as though an immense wedge were being forced, not underneath society, but through society. Those who are above the point of separation are elevated, but those who are below are crushed down.
He takes us along on an enquiry to find the answer to this. He carefully explains definitions and the misconception and misuse of them.
The first few chapters are not at all complex and can be easily understood, but they perhaps take more perseverance than what lies beyond. Once past a third of the way into the book, it will start taking you along. This first third is necessary for Henry George to lay the groundwork; he needed be very clear about what he was describing; he needed to examine the general assumptions of the day - and this day - and closely analyse them to show how they are wrong. And then he can continue.
He painstakingly picks through the territory and destroys all the well-worn explanations that poverty arises from natural, unalterable reasons. And he shows not only that poverty is not the inevitable result of nature, but that poverty arises from a distortion of nature.
He prosecutes the falsehoods which have grown into our laws and govern our consciousness, cementing the great injustice in our societies, enslaving and stunting humanity, preventing its true flowering. He searches for the basis of the assumptions by which we live, the laws and relationships which govern the production and distribution of wealth are forensically examined. He lays it all out in the light, and he describes the problem.
It feels as if he were teasing us, when he takes care to examine the ideas which are not the remedy. But as he says:
Our conclusions point to a solution. It is so radical that it will not be considered if we believe less drastic measures might work. Yet it is so simple that its effectiveness will be discounted until more elaborate measures are evaluated.
And having conclusively dealt with them, then he describes the remedy. And it is so beautiful that you may laugh out loud to realise it. And laugh again when he goes on and helps you to really think about it.
It is beautiful. Henry George wasn’t proposing a revolution, a seizure, a shock. Indeed, his teachings promise a bounty for everyone. This is truly utopian. Really, of all the utopias that have ever been imagined here on Earth, this book is the description of one, this one really works. This is the one that could never produce a dictatorship. In fact, there needn’t even be much politics.
In his life he was driven, with an almost religious zeal, to just get people to think, and to come to see the obvious truth. From his wisdom and love, Henry George shows how, in practical terms, the noble goals of freedom, real freedom for everybody, can be pursued with a mere, though fundamental, administrative adjustment. Come on, how cool is that? Wouldn’t you like to know, and to understand, how that can be? How that releases justice?
In the politics and economics we’re familiar with, the trade-off always presented is between equality and efficiency. This book vehemently denies that this is the choice, and shows that the opposite is true, that the inefficient waste of wealth keeps human energy and intelligence untapped. The goals of equity and efficiency are shown to be actually, after all, mutually reinforcing.
He tests all of his assertions for us, very much with us. He tests them against history and against our own common sense and understanding. Like Socrates, he will call as witness to his case things that, when asked, people will commonly know. There is actually quite a powerful feeling by the end of reading this book of having been told something that, somewhere, you already knew. It’s that obviously true, you may feel you already knew all of this.
He leads us to elegant, correlating laws, self-reinforcing, simple, irrefutable as geometry, self-evidently just. He reaches a point in his explanation where he says:
The laws of distribution, as we now understand, clearly correlate with each other. This is in striking contrast to the lack of harmony of those given by current political economy.
He contrasts the erroneous statement of these laws as understood, with the true statement, and says:
In their current form, the laws of distribution have no mutual relation and no common center. They are not correlating divisions of a whole. Rather, they are measures of different qualities.
In the statement we have given, all the laws spring from a single point. They support and supplement each other. Together they form correlating divisions of a complete whole.
And this speaks for the whole case he has made, it is a holistic view of the world and humanity, as economics really should be. The word economics is from the Greek, oikonomia, the management of a household.
Of his remedy, he says:
The laws of the universe are harmonious. If the remedy to which we have been led is the true one, it must be consistent with justice; it must be practical in application; it must accord with the tendencies of social development; and it must harmonize with other reforms.
All this I propose to show.
The laws of the universe do not deny the natural aspirations of the human heart. The progress of society can be toward equality, not inequality. Economic law will prove the perceptions of Marcus Aurelius: "We are made for cooperation — like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth.”
As we said, we’re not going to say anything about what the book actually proposes, much better that he explains it. This is the clearest thinking. This is the solution to the fundamental problems of human society, the practical worldly ones, at least. This is the key to unlocking the true wealth of the world. We say this man is a giant of history, and it is our conviction that his wisdom will be celebrated on this Earth.
Once we’d got about two-thirds of the way through Progress and Poverty, we’d totally got it, we were convinced, completely, and almost wondered what more the last third of the book could say. We certainly didn’t want him to stop, oh no, but we had almost the feeling that he could have stopped there. And then the last third of the book was a delight, the most wonderful celebration of human progress and civilisation, and a penetrating look into the past to further inflate our blossoming understanding.
And the last third carried a warning as to how we could lose it all, with telling examples of civilisations before that have lost it all, and why they lost it all. Having described how his assertions perfectly add up and fit beautifully with the harmony we see in nature, he describes the dysfunction of a world which is out of harmony with natural laws. He makes a clear warning that society is not, ultimately, sustainable outside of natural laws. Sooner or later, it does fail, falls apart, and then you do get shocks, like the modern Greeks have experienced. We mention the suffering of the Greeks because we’re in Europe and it’s local. Outside of the developed world, of course, suffering and misery and shocks have been there all along. We all know, somewhere, that it can be really, really tough to not live in the developed world, brutally, viciously tough, maybe unimaginable to someone from the developed world.
But Henry George shows us how it could be, how it should be. There is no doubt for us, this analysis is the correct one, this is the absolute truth, and we’re certain that there would be no doubt for anyone else who properly considered this.
He lays open a golden vision of the release of the true potential of human creativity. At first, some of this can sound quite fanciful, that he’s getting a bit carried away with himself; but you soon realise, it reaches you, that what he says is absolutely so; and that this is absolutely what you can see happening under the conditions he describes. He says:
Consider the possibilities of a state of society that gave opportunity to all. Let imagination fill out the picture; its colours grow too bright for words to paint. Consider the moral elevation, the intellectual activity, the social life. Consider how by a thousand actions and interactions the members of every community are linked together, and how in the present condition of things even the fortunate few who stand upon the apex of the social pyramid must suffer though they know it not, from the want, ignorance, and degradation that are underneath. Consider these things, and then say whether the change I propose would not be for the benefit for everyone even the greatest landholder? Would he not be safer of the future of his children in leaving them penniless in such a state of society than in leaving them the largest fortune of all? Did such a state of society anywhere exist, would not lie buy entrance to it cheaply by giving up all his possessions?
We find that our reaction to reading this book is a common one: an urgent need to tell others about it. The actual copy we read was one of several that someone had set afloat in the world. He left an email address in the cover and we contacted him and had a beer with him and discussed P&P and so on. You feel like sharing it immediately. You may try and talk to people about it but, though it’s simple, it can also be problematic to represent. As we say, if you read this, we would predict you’re going to want to tell people about it. In the future, we want to develop some notes here discussing the problem of how we do that.
Reading this book was a blessed relief, and liberation; at last, something to really belief in. Something we could see very quickly was unquestionable. At last, everything was explained, and at least we understood now. It could seem at the moment that there’s not a cat’s chance in hell of it reigning, but at least the principles of civilisation have been described, we know what civilisation looks like, could justice ever be attained.
Having a read back through this piece, we note that we do sound hyperventilated about it, it is an overexcited sales pitch, but it’s hard to contain this discovery, and we’re going to say it again:
What is morally right and just is also what is most economically efficient!
The interests of the individual and the interests of the community, are the same!
Please read this book!
You can get this book at any of the usual sources, and you can order it here
But you don’t have to buy it, anyway, because it’s free! Of course it’s free! This book can be ordered here or read here, or print it from here
Print off a few copies and give them to your friends!