I recently finished reading Poverty and Progress. It was written some 130 years ago by Henry George and contains an incredible depth of insight into the economic foundations that our society is based upon.
The basis it develops separates everything that goes into the production of Wealth into three categories; Land, Labour and Capital.
- Wealth consists of ‘natural products that have been secured, moved, combined, separated, or in other ways modified by human exertion to fit them for the gratification of human desires.’
- Land is ‘all natural materials, forces, and opportunities.’
- Labour is ‘all human exertion in the production of wealth.’
- Capital is then the subset of wealth that is ‘devoted to aid production.’
Breaking things up in that manner allowed some significant insights. Firstly; there is a substantial element of our economy that is gifted to us. Secondly; wealth is not created out of nothing, but rather through acts of labour acting upon existing natural product. Wealth is inherently and necessarily real. Finally; the true contest in society is not between capital and labour, but between those who control access to Land, and everyone else.
He goes on to develop a link between the consolidation of the control of land into the hands of the few and the existence of poverty, and a mechanism by which that tendency can be negated.
I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to think through a distinctly different perspective on society and why the world is the way it is.