George, Henry

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

George, Henry

Henry George, 1839–97, American economist, founder of the single tax movement, b. Philadelphia. Of a poor family, his formal education was cut short at 14, and in 1857 he emigrated to California; there he worked at various occupations before turning to newspaper writing in San Francisco. George's experience in a number of trades, his desperate poverty while supporting a family, and the examples of financial rapacity that came to his attention as wage earner and newspaperman gave impetus to his reformist tendencies. George believed that an increase in poverty accompanied and even surpassed the increase in national wealth. He believed that the answer to this seeming paradox lay in the fact that the rental of land and the unearned increase in land values profited a few individuals rather than the community whose existence made the land valuable. He believed that a single tax on land would meet all the costs of government and even leave a surplus, besides unburdening labor and capital of taxes on their output. He first outlined the doctrine in the pamphlet Our Land and Land Policy (1871) and set himself to write a more elaborate treatise, which appeared under the title Progress and Poverty (1879); it sold millions of copies all over the world. In 1880 George moved to New York City and spent the remainder of his life writing and lecturing. He supported the Irish Land League and various economic and political reforms. In 1886 he ran for mayor of New York on a reform platform, and the incumbent Tammany machine was forced to go outside its ranks to find in Abram S. Hewitt a man strong enough to oppose him. Hewitt won, but George, without a party organization, polled a heavy vote, running ahead of the Republican candidate Theodore Roosevelt. In 1897 George ran again but died just before the election. Clear presentation and moral fervor rather than originality make George's ideas outstanding. His theories have influenced tax legislation in Australia, in parts of Canada, in the United States, and in certain nations of Western Europe.

See biography by Henry George, Jr. (1900); studies by A. A. G. DeMille (1950, repr. 1972), S. B. Cord (1965), E. J. Cord (1965), and J. Oser (1973).

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