Political economist Henry George’s 1879 treatise on landownership was controversial, but it quickly became a bestseller in both the United States and Great Britain. It even inspired one of the most successful board games of all time, Monopoly. Yet its insights remain evergreen. George’s central message is that income inequality and poverty in a society become more acute as its wealth increases. His penetrating observations of the 19th-century settlement of the American West easily apply to the 21st century’s new Wild West — the global digital economy.
Wealth is the outcome of the factors of production: land, labor and capital.
Growing prosperity from technological advances increases rather than alleviates poverty. Evidence of this pattern spans the world, regardless of nations’ population levels, forms of government, financial systems or social frameworks. “A common cause” must explain why the wealthiest and best-equipped economies also bear the greatest human deprivation and industrial slack.
A fundamental definition of wealth is “anything having an exchange value.” That value resides in the tangible assets – such as agricultural products, buildings, furnishings, tools, machines and railroads – that satisfy human wants. Labor creates items of wealth when workers obtain and alter the materials supplied by nature; the amount of an asset’s value depends on the amount of labor necessary to produce it. Capital, in its essence, consists of a subset of those assets; it can aid labor in fashioning more wealth, just as tools help form items of value.
Wealth is distributed to each factor of production in the form of rents to landowners, wages to laborers and interest to investors...
Henry George (1839–1897) was an American political economist who achieved enormous popularity with this book and its themes. He toured the United States and elsewhere, gaining acclaim in Europe and particularly in Ireland. He also ran, unsuccessfully, for public office.