The false dichotomy of liberty vs equality, or markets vs socialism, is exposed when one examines the role of land. Once you see it, you can’t unsee. — Edward Miller
Check Out the new “American Experience” Documentary on The Gilded Age
Readers of this newsletter will want to tune in to PBS’s American Experience on February 6th for a new documentary on the Gilded Age. Here’s the trailer, which describes the period of the last three decades of the 19th century as “an age of possibilities,” “an age of extreme wealth,” and “an age of extreme poverty.
The term Gilded Age comes from the 1873 novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today by Mark Twain. It’s revealing that the term is “Gilded” rather than “Golden” – implying a surface prettying-up, a patina applied over an underlying reality that was much grittier.
The times we’re living through are often described as a “New Gilded age.” We often hear Donald Trump bragging about the strong stock markets and high productivity over which he presides — but these economic gains tend to only benefit those at the very top of the economy.
Henry George was one of the seminal voices of the Gilded Age. George, who had experienced extreme poverty in his own life, wrote with deep feeling and empathy about the abject suffering that seemed inextricably tied to economic progress.
The documentary devotes at least ten minutes to George — his hardscrabble early history, and his dramatic mayoral race. There is even a separate trailer about this segment of the film, which elevates George to the level of fame enjoyed by Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan. Unfortunately, though, filmmaker Sarah Colt emphasizes Henry George’s biography and his easily-understood role as a spokesman for popular discontent — without mentioning his analysis. Viewers of this documentary will see Henry George as a compelling voice that described the yawning divide between rich and poor, as when he wrote: “It is as though an immense wedge were being forced, not underneath society, but through society. Those who are above the point of separation are elevated, but those who are below are crushed down.”
Apparently, Colt mentions neither Henry George’s explanation of the fundamental cause of these problems, nor his proposed solution. The problem of deepening poverty along with material progress remains, in the viewer’s mind, a matter of society’s inevitable power dynamic between Haves and Have-nots.
Fans and devotees, desperate to leverage any mention of Henry George in popular media, will see this film as cause for celebration. Serious readers of George, however, are more likely to throw up their hands in frustration at one more in a long list of references to Henry George as a self-taught guy who had nothing of any great consequence to add to economic analysis, and whose ideas certainly have no practical relevance today.
It’s worth noting that Mark Twain didn’t damn Henry George with that sort of faint praise. Twain was quoted as saying, “The earth belongs to the people. I believe in the gospel of the single tax.” The pointedly Georgist article “Archimedes” appeared in Henry George’s newspaper The Standard under the byline “Twark Main,” and Twain scholars have endorsed it as Twain’s work. Also – and more important to the current discussion – The Gilded Age, in 1873, was all about land speculation. The quest to get rich from simply owning a piece of well-placed ground is the backbone of the book’s plot. And so it should be, for the appropriation of the community’s work, as it piles up in the unearned rent of land and natural resources, underlies “progress and poverty” just as much today as it did in the first “Gilded Age.”
Ed Dodson Shares SOTU Response
Our stalwart colleague, Ed Dodson, has composed and recorded a video response to President Trump’s state of the Union message. Ed has provided us with a video that is sober, cogent, thoughtful and well worth your consideration. Perhaps it’s not scintillating, but, hey, if you can listen to Trump bloviate for 90 minutes, you ought to be able to handle Ed for eight.
A Milestone for The Progress Report
Lawrence Bosek, Editor at www.progress.org, writes: I have some exciting news! The progress Report has reached a milestone of 1000 followers on Facebook this week. Thanks to contributors such as yourself, our site is growing and we are spreading our resource sharing messages farther than before. Thank you all and please keep up the excellent work.
This year has even more growth in the plans. I will send out another update when the plans have been solidified. Meanwhile, if you have any other ideas or know of anyone else that has ideas to share, please send them my way.
Articles You Shouldn’t Miss
New York Times: The Subways Made Them Rich. Is It Time for Them to Pay Up?
New York Times: The Next Crisis for Puerto Rico: A Crush of Foreclosures
Bloomberg News: Faster Growth Begins With a Land Tax in U.S. Cities
New York Times: Flood Map Revision Sets Up New York Real Estate Battle
Scottish Land Commission: Land Commission to Look at Potential for Land Value Taxes n Scotland
Bloomberg News: Land Is Underrated as a Source of Wealth
Georgist Site of the Month
Rumour has it that these blokes may be changing their name from “The Single Tax and Natural Energy Band” to simply “Natural Energy Band” — a change that deserves support, I’d say — for the single tax message of this set of songs by John Harris and friends comes through loud and clear. Don’t be put off by the kludgy appearance of their website; these guys are rockers, not coders. But give their songs a listen! They are providing us with some sorely-needed “movement music” that will get you moving.