“Men like Henry George are rare unfortunately. One cannot imagine a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form, and fervent love of justice.” Albert Einstein

Henry George was a popular economic philosopher in the late 19th Century. His book, Progress & Poverty, stormed the world in the 1880s and asked why there was so much poverty despite the progress brought on by the industrial revolution. George spelled out how land ownership laws create a pyramid society, whereby the rich can live off the poor. His simple but evocative writing alerted people to this travesty and provided a solution: land tax.

The movement inspired by his work came to be known as Georgism.

Henry George was the first economist to demonstrate that taxes based on resources – which he called land tax – produce the greatest prosperity with the least adverse effects. He demonstrated how poverty and unemployment could be minimised by the removal of all other taxes (including income tax) when replaced with land tax.

Naturally, proposing to tax resources upset the wealthy ruling class, and although George was bitterly opposed he nearly became Mayor of New York.

Leading intellectuals, business leaders and politicians including Albert Einstein, Alfred Deakin and Henry Ford saw George as one of the most important contributors to Classical economics. George gained huge support by making economics understandable to the average person. Proof of his popularity in Australia saw some 10,000 people attend George’s inspirational speech at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre in 1890. Similar numbers followed his talks around the country.

When he died one fifth of New York’s population came out to pay their respects as his funeral procession made its way from Grand Central Palace to the Brooklyn Bridge.  

Further reading:

You can read Progress and Poverty, Henry George’s seminal work, in either its original version or an abridged version. We also recommend taking a look at other Georgists in History and this Glossary of Economic Terms.

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