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About Henry George

Henry George was born in Philadelphia in 1839 to a family of devout Episcopalians. He left school at the age of thirteen and pursued various jobs in an effort to make ends meet.

henry.jpgDuring his early years George experienced personal poverty and later the hardships involved in earning enough to support a wife and children. During his colourful life he worked as a typesetter, sailor, printer, gold digger, journalist, editor, and politician.

His experience of life, his work, and his inquisitive and creative mind led him to question the nature and causes of poverty. In particular why, if there is so much material progress in the world, is there also increasing poverty? Looking at burdgeoning urban San Fransisco, he identified access to land as key to the problem. In 1871 he wrote a pamphlet titled Our Land and Land Policy, which he later developed into his masterwork, the book Progress and Poverty, first published in 1879.

In Progress and Poverty, George argued that technological progress is indeed possible without increasing poverty. Critical to his thinking is the idea that all people universally have equal right to the value of the earth and our natural and common resources. The remedy which he proposed to the social problems he saw was that those who sought to use and monopolise common resources, such as land, should pay to the community an annual rent for the privilege – to be used to fund public services for all.

The influence of his work was widespread during his lifetime. George himself toured and lectured in Ireland, Scotland, England and Australia, and was a key character in the reform movements of the time. Supporters of his work have included Leo Tolstoy, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill and Lloyd George. Despite the fact that Henry George wrote on the issue of poverty over one hundred years ago his ideas are as relevant for us today as they were during his lifetime. George’s thinking now provides the basis for much 21st Century new economic thinking.

Henry George stood as Mayor of New York City in 1897 but died the day before the election results were announced.

For more on the life of Henry George see the section on the Life of Henry George. Also see Agnes George de Mille’s biography published by the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation or visit the American National Biography Online.

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Land & Liberty magazine is a publication of The Henry George Foundation.