You have to be pretty desperate to set yourself alight, as a young vegetable seller in Tunisia did in 2010, sparking the Arab Spring which has brought so much hardship in the Arab world, and now onto the shores of Europe. Tunisia itself seemed to offer a glimmer of hope that it had not all been in vain, but the Sunday Times reported (28/02/2016) that already this year there have been 17 self-immolations and 120 last year in protest at corruption and poverty. Tunisia, at least, is trying to improve things, but democracy is not in itself a solution to poverty and unemployment. What is lacking is an understanding of how to create a just society.
Communism, once the hope of the poor, has failed; bureaucratic socialism has fared better, but has burdened the State with high and growing debt and the citizens with a heavy tax burden; capitalism has demonstrated its ability to produce immense wealth, but is marred by huge wealth and income inequality; so is there another way?
Writing in the last quarter of the 19th century, Henry George offered an alternative and dedicated his Progress and Poverty ‘To those who, seeing the vice and misery that spring from the unequal distribution of wealth and privilege, feel the possibility of a higher social state and would strive for its attainment.’ Among those who responded to his invitation to strive for a higher social state were Winston Churchill, Leo Tolstoy, Sun Yat-sen in China and Albert Einstein.
The Shepheard-Wawlyn Ethical Economics list contains a selection of books exploring how the insights of Henry George could be applied to the conditions of today when the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, suggesting that the cause which he pinpointed in his book, is still in place. Even where there is no intention to apply the ‘remedy’, as he called it, the benefits even of a partial application are evident, as Hong Kong and Singapore show.
Just as the Soviet Union faced up to the failure of their economic system, so we now need to recognise the failure of the global economic system to provide work and a decent livelihood for all who share this planet and look for an alternative. Over the next six months, Shepheard-Walwyn will be publishing three titles which explore how such a change could take place.