The Jigsaw Puzzle
We think it implausible that you haven’t yet read Progress and Poverty and yet you’re still reading these pages. So, from a little while back, we’ve been assuming you have read it, and that you’re seeing the cat and you know what the remedy is. So, for a while now we’ve ceased this awkward veiling of the essential point. If you still haven’t read it, go away and read it before you read on.
We looked at the Single Tax movement and the considerable influence it had on the development of the USA in the early 20th century, but we were still wondering why Henry George’s insight didn’t have a greater influence on world events, disseminated as it had been. We were troubled at how such a truthful statement could become so completely invisible to history and in political discourse. How did the world, as far as our evolving reading of events, lose sight of Henry George’s perfect description of economic justice?
As mentioned, there was a hugely powerful vested interest resistant to it which had devised and financed a successful academic coup to subvert it: neoclassical economics. The key feature of this wilfully incoherent distortion was to take the three factors of production of classical economics, Land, Labour and Capital, and remove the Land factor completely. Land disappears! Land, the Great Natural Everything, the source of everything, becomes subsumed into Capital. Only Capital and Labour remain as elements of production in the neoclassical version of economics.
Land, all that naturally occurs, the fertile valleys and forests, the deep oceans, the air we breathe, the rolling plains, the ore-packed mountains, etc., all of nature’s bounty, that we stand on, the very space we exist in, that has been here billions of years, of which no one has any greater claim upon than anyone else and yet ownership of which (not of air, but it would have been if it could have been) has become concentrated in the hands of so few, is removed as an separate consideration in economics. In some kind of mystical process, capital seeps into the land. Land, nature, the primary source of everything, to which everyone has an equal moral claim, is removed from the calculation of economics entirely.
The falsification of economics propagated by those who hushed up Henry George had the effect of framing the politics of the 20th century into two opposing ideas: the political expressions of Labour and Capital. Socialism and Capitalism, in the forms they had been pressed into, were illegitimate children of the new and distorted description of economics, both set apart from the land. Socialism and Capitalism became the antagonists whose mutual struggle dictated the course of the 20th century history.
Dr Robert V Andelson, American economics professor and Single Taxer, made an address in 1992, Henry George and the Reconstruction of Capitalism,which we read.
He had a picture that we liked of economic theory as an immense jigsaw puzzle scattered over two vast tables where two jigsaw solvers are sat, the Capitalist jigsaw solver and the Socialist jigsaw solver. They both think they know how to put the jigsaw together, and it’s an extra hard jigsaw, because mixed up in the jumble of pieces are many false pieces, that the players may well try for a while to force into spaces that don’t naturally fit.
We should say, actually, that we don’t totally get how Andelson’s jigsaw idea works, and we tried to modify it a bit, and had them sitting opposite each other with a great pile of pieces between them, but we didn’t totally get how our version works, but it works anyway. Do they both get all of the possible pieces? Is there only one copy of each piece? In Andelson’s room, there seems to be a Capitalist set of pieces and a Socialist set of pieces. Anyway, just stick with it, it doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that both our jigsaw solvers should both have known that Henry George had completed the jigsaw perfectly before, and revealed the beauty of the completed picture. In Andelson’s jigsaw, Henry George had picked pieces from both tables, and from what had now landed on the Capitalist side of the table, he had picked up many correct pieces to include in his picture. Andelson tell us:
George considered himself a purifier of Capitalism, not its enemy. He built upon the foundations laid by the classical economists. The skeleton of his system is essentially Capitalist. In fact, Karl Marx referred to George’s teaching as “Capitalism’s last ditch.” George believed in competition, in the free market, in the unrestricted operation of the laws of supply and demand. He distrusted government and despised bureaucracy. He was no egalitarian leveler; the only equality he sought was equal freedom of opportunity. Actually, what he intended was to make free enterprise truly free, by ridding it of the monopolistic hobbles which prevent its effective operation.
And he quotes Henry George from The Condition of Labor, another of his works:
We differ from the Socialists in our diagnosis of the evil, and we differ from them in remedies. We have no fear of capital, regarding it as the natural handmaiden of labor; we look on interest in itself as natural and just; we would set no limit to accumulation, nor impose on the rich any burden that is not equally placed on the poor; we see no evil in competition, but deem unrestricted competition to be as necessary to the health of the industrial and social organism as the free circulation of the blood is to the bodily organism — to be the agency whereby the fullest cooperation is to be secured.
Andelson speaks of George’s strong belief in the dignity of the individual, the absolute right to one’s self and all that is produced from one’s self, and how taxation of this produce is a denial of this right. Much of what is beyond question these days, even to champions of free enterprise, like income tax, sales taxes, tariffs, corporate taxes, is rejected by George as collectivist.
So far, Henry George sounds like an arch-Conservative, and yet, as Paul Thompson says in Socialist, Liberals and Labour (1967):
The real socialist revival was set off by Henry George, the American land reformer, whose English campaign tour of 1882 seemed to kindle the smouldering unease with narrow radicalism. This radical voice from the Far West of America, a land of boundless promise, where, if anywhere, it might seem that freedom and material progress were secure possessions of honest labour, announced grinding poverty, the squalor of congested city life, unemployment, and utter helplessness.
Harry Snell, a British Labour politician of the early 20th century who served in government, said:
I was one of the many thousands of young men whose political and social views were greatly stimulated by Henry George's famous book Progress and Poverty, which, if measured by the breadth and the depth of its influence on the thoughtful workmen of the eighties, must be considered as one of the greatest political documents of that generation.
Kier Hardie apparently said that it was Progress and Poverty which led him to thinking about Socialism, (when you’d think it might have led him to thinking about Georgism. A century or so later, it was reading Progress and Poverty that moved us forward from thinking about Socialism.) There are many other testimonies from similar figures on the America left, when there was such a thing.
So, there surely had to be some very special correct pieces to be found on the Socialist side of the jigsaw table. Yet Andelson says that George took only two pieces from this side of the table:
But what large and what strategic pieces they were! The first of these was his insistence that all persons come into the world with an equal right of access to the goods of nature. The second was his contention that the community has a right to take that which the community produces.
Actually, these pieces had landed on the Socialist table only by default. They had originally been part of the theory of Capitalism, as outlined by John Locke, the Physiocrats, and Adam Smith. But Capitalism in practice ignored them, and so became a distorted caricature. George’s notion was to rescue these lost elements, and restore balance and proportion to the Capitalist table.
John Locke, who died in 1704, is regarded as one of the most influential philosophers of the age and known as the Father of Classical Liberalism, had said:
God gave the world in common to all mankind. When the "sacredness" of property is talked of, it should be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.
When Henry George tackled the economic jigsaw puzzle he produced the perfect completed picture, inspected from every angle. When examined, the completed pictures produced by these other two jigsaw solvers, who have both ignored his wise advice, are distorted and messy ones, often very ugly, and it’s clear that many of the pieces that have been used don’t belong in this picture and they’ve been forced in somehow.
Henry George’s completed picture, if it would be seen, shows clearly that the two antagonists here, Capitalism and Socialism, should never have been in conflict. All that left wing and right wing stuff was and is nonsense. These jigsaw assemblers should never have been at these tables. The Socialists should have seen it, and the Capitalists should have seen it, the jigsaw had been solved and it was actually everything that everyone ever wanted. But, anyway, the 20th century happened instead.