The Crime of Poverty

The beautiful Hunter Valley NSW, Australia

The beautiful Hunter Valley NSW, Australia

We. my wife Uta and I, are members of the “Association for Good Government” and last Saturday they held a conference near Pokolbin in the Hunter Region  of NSW.

The association is propagating and teaching  the ideas and principles of the American economist and social philosopher Henry George.

The theme of the conference was  based on a speech Henry George gave on 1st of April 1885 at the  Opera House of Burlington. Iowa, USA.”The Crime of Poverty“.

Burlington Opera House in 1910

Burlington Opera House in 1910

If you read the speech you will find it was no April fool’s joke. We learnt, that about four hundred people attended who each paid  a 50 cents entrance fee.

George suggests, it is not a crime to be poor but poverty is a social crime of which we, the whole society, are all guilty of. It is a curse and in the end we will all suffer from it, even the rich. The rich can not live really  in peace with poor people all around them.

The present financial crisis in Greece and the refugee problem the rich states of Europe have to grapple with are good examples. The “rich” are coming under pressure from the poor.

People all over the world produce goods and food in abundance, but all is not distributed equally. Sure, the world has changed a lot since 1885 but in principle George’s theories are still correct. Still, people are being exploited by other people. And it was ever so.

According to Henry George all has to do with the control of the land by the few. By land, he doesn’t only means the land under our feet, that can be worked, but also all the resources that can be found in the earth.

When we are born we are already designated slaves. At least we a have to work like slaves to satisfy the greed of the rent seekers. All land is already taken by generations who came before us. Henry George was of the opinion that “Land” is a natural right for living beings to share.

If you see a herd of animals or a flock of birds you don’t see a percentage of them starving or living in poverty. Why then can’t we share, with other people, the fruits of the land?

We also learnt at the conference that early, white settlers pushed the Aborigines off their land and even refused them access to the Hunter River for water and fishing. It is always control of the land which controls the people.

Fighting poverty in this environment is much easier.

Fighting poverty in this environment is much easier.

The conference also touched on Tiberius Gracchus a popular Roman politician of the 2nd century BC. He was also a brave and popular military leader who found, that after he and his soldiers came back from the Third Punic War that many had lost their land in their absence. Their wives and children could not make a living from their land without the help of their men. They went bankrupt and the big landholders were buying the land cheaply. The increased holdings were then worked by slaves instead of by free men.  The now poverty stricken people streamed into Rome.

The Gracchus brothers, Tiberius and Gaius by Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume

The Gracchus brothers, Tiberius and Gaius by Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume

Plutarch reports Tiberius Gracchus saying, “Wild animals who live in Italy have for each of them a place to rest or hiding place. But the men who fought and died for Italy have nothing more than the air and light; unsettled, without home nor house, they roam the land with their wives and children. The generals lie to them during battle, when they call on them to  defend the graves and holy shrines against their enemies. None of those poor Romans owns a grave or altar of their  ancestors. They are fighting  and dying for the wellbeing and the wealth of others. They are called the rulers of the world – but in truth they own not even one crumb of this Earth.”

Tiberius Gracchus then had the idea, that the returned soldiers should be given   plots of 30 iugera confiscated from the rich landholders. The landholders did not like the idea at all and organised a massacre in which he and four hundred of his followers were beaten to death and thrown into the River Tiber. This, according to the Roman historian Plutarch, was the first outbreak of civil strife in Rome.Theodor Mommsen, the German historian, called the year of the massacre, 133 BC, a defining year in the history of Rome.

Settling the land question with a bloody massacre is a defining moment?  It shows that the elite of Rome was just a bunch of land-hungry parasites.

Capitalism teaches us that it is an advantage to have a pool of  poor and unemployed people. That is where the injustice and the crime of poverty originate from. People who have no access to land and its resources live in poverty.

According to a  UNICEF report, 1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty. and 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. This happens because the human race is not able to  share.

On the way to the conference, we stopped for a short tea break at  Mooney  Mooney, at the banks of the Hawkesbury River.  It is a nice spot alright and not only people are attracted to the picnic area but also the wildlife. Brush Turkeys are coming out  of  the bush and try to find something edible we humans drop accidentally or otherwise. And what did we see? Among them was a feral hen who lives happily thinking she is a turkey too.

One hen and two Brush Turkeys.

One hen and two Brush Turkeys.

What do I want to say here? That two species can live together and share the resources available to them and we humans, seemingly, can’t do the same.

20 thoughts on “The Crime of Poverty

  1. this is what I too often feel, we human beings throw away thing, waste money but cant share our excess, I am not talking about the essentials, I am talking about excesses. its a real shame!

  2. It does seem a crime that there is unequal distribution of wealth, and I do not see an easy solution to overcome that. What amazes me is how charities have to step up and fill in the gap for the needy and poor, that you would think could be provided by the government.

    • Thank you for your comment, Elizabeth. The best way to help the needy and poor is trying to give them work. That is the first step. The next step is the redistribution of wealth. We are talking here about the wealth that is actually produced by the whole community but creamed off by the few, namely the rent seekers.

      How to do that? Well, Henry George shows us the way. He advocates a “side revenue tax. Some people like to call it “Land Tax”. Ken Henry included it in his “Henry Tax Report” but it sank without a trace. PM Julia Gillard retorted angrily that her government would never tax the family home. This is completely wrong as not the home is supposed to be taxed but the unimproved value.

      The practicality of an introduction of such a tax would be a headache and would require real leadership. This would be a “tax reform” worthy of speaking of and not the increase of the GST from 10% to 15%. That would be just a tax increase.

      • A wealth tax? Is that what you mean? What about people who invest in shares or superannuation, rather than property? Do you think they should pay an extra tax as well?

      • PS. I was making my comment because your post made me think of how many ways the better off are than the needy, meaning they have so many things to do with their ‘extras’, whereas the needy do not have any extras.

  3. A fair tax is what seems to be the best leveller of wealth. The constant demonising of a tax in Australia is not good and it creates inequality. Scandinavian countries with many European countries a tax is regarded as an essential tool in creating a distribution of wealth enabling good health care, good education, and reasonable pensions for the retired or sick/disabled.
    Here, taxation is regarded as something we should pay as little as possible. A few years ago now, the Swedish government was returned on the promise NOT to lower taxation. They understand that if you want the best distribution of wealth a fair tax has to be paid. Here the national sport is avoiding paying tax.

  4. I’m a really strong advocate of Land Value Taxation. I’m happy to see support for it growing, especially in the UK – with members of the Green, Labour, Conservative and LibDem Party publicly supporting it.

  5. Capitalism teaches us that it is an advantage to have a pool of poor and unemployed people. This really enunciates the evils of capitalism, and add to this, it thrives on increasing consumption in a finite world! This is doomed eventually to failure. I think it is a profound thing to say we are all born slaves who are not landholders, and this was especially true 100 years ago when landed gentry held much of the vote and control in Australia. Whilst the farmers today can not make a living off their farms, multinational corporations or Chinese/foreign owenership of good agricultural land mean that our destiny will be to return to slavery. I so agree with the equal distribution of resources, wealth and land, ( excellent idea of taxing the umimproved value of the land, although councils already do this in a limited way with rate payment based on valuation), I think some adjustments could be made to inherent principles, as humans can be apathetic creatures if not forced to endure a little ( and I mean a little ) hardship, as was shown in the communist era when land, housing and employment was provided, but the system encouraged apathy. What do you see as the solution to this problem? Also agree with Gerard above that Scandinavian countries are great advocates of high taxation because of the social benefits and are by and large very happy to pay it, knowing that ALL benefit equally. Social justice!!!

    • Thank you for commenting. You said it all so well. Social justice is the word and the question is, how to achieve it? Henry George’s idea is to share the value of the land.

      While accruing wealth in so few hands money is taken out of circulation for speculative activities. Money represents work done and should be used for trading with other working people. But rich people don’t do that. They accumulate and only spend a small amount of the money.

      You are right, Scandinavian countries are much better in creating more just societies. Norway for instance, established a national wealth fund with the oil revenue. Howard and Costello gave a tax cut to the rich and weakened our economy when the financial crises struck.

      • Very true Berlioz. Norway has invested in the future but without the oil they would be quite impoverished considering their dearth of arable land. As for Eyebrows Howard, Abbot and Costello they garner the attention of the greedy get rich quick uper and middle classes and dupe the poorer sectors by playing to the racist fears. There is no perfect solution but we can try to do better. Thanks for introducing me to Henry George.

  6. So true. I am curious – does one get labelled a communist or something along that line for ideas like that where you live? What I found greatly helpful in the last couple of years is the inner, personal component. Am I living in worry about my finances? Am I feeding the collective “scarcity consciousness” with ideas of me-against-them? I think, holding the highest ideal we can imagine for our world is so important, never giving in into “that’s not possible, anyway”. It never will be if we don’t try, does it?

    • Historically it doesn’t matter, because as John Maynard Keynes said, “In the long run we are all dead”. But it matters to the living, especially to the people who are being exploited. Life is a struggle! People struggle as well as organisations. Perfection is not possible, but we should strive to do justice under the circumstances that are present at the time.

      The present system does not allow justice to the weak.

      • I guess what I’m asking is, does justice have a survival value? If justice doesn’t have a survival value, can we reasonably expect societies to prioritize it?

  7. An interesting question! I would say there are different answers within a society and among societies.

    Within a society, justice is important, as injustice, in the end, leads to revolution (as in France 1789 and the Russian Empire 1917). Those particular societies went under in a bloodbath. The governing elite could have prioritized justice, but the greedy, property owning elite did not want to know. The “let them eat cake” mentality led to their demise.

    You can ask yourself, which are so most stable societies? The answer is the Scandinavian countries! They have created societies, through the redistribution of wealth, that are relatively more just than other societies.

    The human race lives in densely packed societies today. Justice is an important part of keeping the inner peace. The hunter-gathering societies lived in clans and love among its members was sufficient justice for survival.

    The storm clouds in the Western-orientated societies are already gathering. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the property owning class has become bolder and bolder. People are not happy taking note of this development.

    Populous movements are springing up in many countries. They might not be the solution, but they are the expression of their frustration with the daily injustice they experience.

    I learned today, that there at present 3.5 million unoccupied apartments in Spain. Yet many people have no place of abode. People are being evicted from their flats, as they can’t serve their mortgages. The system has failed them and that is perceived as injustice.

    There is no social Darwinism. The Nazis believed in the survival of the fittest. The more just (not perfect) societies won the war. Darwin advocated a biological evolution only. Western societies invented enlightenment to create a better and just society. It is a work in progress and at this stage we witness a struggle of the enlightened people and the Ayan Rands of this world.

    There is no guarantee that the former will win because Arthur Schopenhauer said, in a conflict between “Wii and Reason” “Will” will win anytime. Still I think a just society has more chances to survive longer.

  8. Pingback: The survival value of a just Society | Berlioz1935's Blog

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