On the advice of my son, I’ve begun reading Henry George’s classic work titled PROGRESS AND POVERTY. Although the book was written during the Gilded Age–the late 19th Century–it speaks directly to one of our most pressing political issues, that of income inequality and polarization.
At the beginning of the book, George asks why it is that great advances in a nation’s wealth and productivity have never resulted in the elimination of poverty. Instead, poverty seems to increase wherever we see wealth increasing.
Most conservatives would argue that income disparity is primarily a result of choice–some people choose to work hard and others decide to malinger. Unfortunately, that rosy view of life does not explain the all-too-familiar phenomenon I experienced as a university president. I saw students working jobs on the side to pay tuition and make other ends meet, only to discover that no matter how hard they worked, a gap remained between their income and their expenditures. Some students dropped out of school for that very reason, only to discover that they had trapped themselves in low-paying jobs that would barely cover their rent, let alone medical bills or prescription drugs.
So it wasn’t a matter of how hard these students worked. It was a matter of the low wage jobs that were available coupled with uncontrollable increases in housing, food, transportation, and other prices.
Although I’ve only started the book, I’ve been told that Henry George argues for the elimination of income and sales taxes, replacing them with a single tax on raw land; that is, the value of the unimproved portion of one’s real property. I find this concept intriguing and I plan to keep you posted via this blog.