Social Philosopher and Political Economist
By Dr Joseph Milne, University of Kent, UK
If man lived according to natural law he would be free to enjoy the full realisation of his gifts and innate aspirations. But to live according to natural law means that the laws of nature must be observed and reasoned through. This is particularly the case with the natural laws of human society and the creation and enjoyment of wealth. That there is poverty in any society, or limits on the actualisation of any individuals talents or vocation is a clear sign, from nature, that a society is ordered in some way against natural law. Human society is part of the ecosystem just like every other part or aspect of the world or the universe and nature has made provision for the human species in the total order of things just as with everything else. This natural order extends from the simple needs of food and shelter all the way through all strata of society, in all its institutions, its government, its culture and its spiritual aspirations to transcendent truth. But unlike the other creatures of the earth, human society is not attained blindly through the mechanical laws of instinct, but only through the human power of reason and vision. Man is the thinking being, and only through thought and the intelligent understanding of the nature of things can man attain his proper place in the order of nature. Without such thought man is not yet human. As the reflecting being man can only come to his humanness through reflection, and such reflection is the calling of man within the ecology of the universe.
The question of how man ought to live within the natural order of the universe has been a central question of all genuine philosophical enquiry and of religion. Yet the insights of the great philosophers and saints have not yet been grasped by the generality of mankind, and so mankind lives blindly within his cosmic setting and calling, discontent because his intelligence tells him faintly that something profound is amiss in the ordering of society. Man knows he is not yet truly himself or free. This knowing is the calling in his own nature to discern the true nature of society within the natural order of things.
The study of natural law is the essence of all true learning and the heart of every discipline. Social philosophy and political science are two disciplines that seek out the natural laws of human community, and one of the most important thinkers here is Henry George who discerned in his major work Progress and Poverty those natural laws which govern the creation and exchange of wealth which assure the easy provision of every human being of their needs, and beyond their needs the infinite scope of human talents to the mutual benefit of all and even of nature herself.
It is an extraordinary thing that this understanding of nature is open to immediate observation and reflection, yet societies remain blind to it and therefore in poverty and discontent, imposing false notions upon nature, forcing nature into unnatural paths and failing to see the inevitable and easily predictable consequences. Failing to observe natural law, nations vainly put their trust and hopes in ideologies which are not rooted in reality, or in leaders who will take care of things for the majority. Yet it is an obvious truth that man can only live and interact with the world about him according to the degree to which he can clearly see it. If man thinks wrongly or blindly, so he will live, for how man thinks manifests in how he lives, not the other way about.
In Progress and Poverty Henry George explains the reasons why, as society progresses and the economy grows, poverty arises in its midst as land monopoly gradually absorbs the natural social revenue and begins to cripple the creation of new wealth, and how taxes placed on production further cripple the economy. In order to illustrate this process in detail, he carefully analyses the three factors of production, land labour and capital, showing how these are almost universally misunderstood. He goes on to clarify all the major terms of economics, such as wages, economic rent, interest, value, money and so on, again showing how these fundamental factors are misunderstood by economists.
George goes on to explain how, through the abolition of all forms of taxation on production or on wages, a society has a natural revenue which arises through land value, a value created by the community as a whole and therefore rightly belonging to the community. This economic rent is the proper source of revenue for government, and cannot be hidden or exploited either by land owners or government itself. It is natural and just, and therefore does not inhibit the creation of wealth in any way, and removes entirely the curse of unemployment which land monopoly directly causes.
He explains how only a just society can be a free society, opening the way to unimaginable human creativity, free of economic booms and slumps, in which everyone may enjoy the full fruits of their labours, either working for themselves or for an employer. A just society is one in which poverty is entirely eradicated and in which nobody lives on the fruits of another persons labour. In such a society government need only be minimal since no intervention into production would be required and free trade would be the norm.
In The Science of Political Economy, his last work, he explains the working of the economy in even greater detail, illustrating how erroneous theories distort economic understanding and how all attempts of governments to remedy the problem of poverty are doomed to failure owing to false notions of the economic factors, no matter how well-intentioned. This book also explains how vested interest in land monopoly has deliberately distorted the academic study of economics in the universities.
In a free society, regulated by self-evident natural law and justice, work would no longer be the struggle for the basic necessities of physical life it now is, even in the richest countries. The provision of essentials, such as food, clothing and housing, would require only the minimum of labour to secure, after which “work” would take on a higher dimension beyond the mere accumulation of goods. Leisure would be increased and so all people would have the time and freedom to pursue interests beyond their economic needs. Each human being would be able to reach their full stature through their natural gifts, through culture or whatever social pursuits they might desire. In such freedom crime would fall to a minimum and full human health, physically, mentally and spiritually would be raised, since the causes of most ills would be removed.
“Men like Henry George are rare unfortunately. One cannot imagine a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form, and fervent love of justice.”
“This is a very important book. This is a step forward of equal importance to the liberation of our serf’s. This is the liberation of the earth from private ownership.”
Recommended books by Henry George
Progress and Poverty
The Science of Political Economy