Progress and Poverty made its first appearance in 1879, typeset by the author himself, a struggling San Francisco journalist named Henry George. From this humble beginning it became one of the world’s most popular books, translated into dozens of languages with millions of copies distributed around the world, making its author as famous as Mark Twain and Thomas Edison.
Progress and Poverty combines eloquence, scholarship, common sense, and a passion for justice that appeal across the spectrum of human society. George’s central message is that poverty is not inevitable, but is the result of unjust laws and institutions that deny people equal access to the bounties and opportunities of nature. And these laws and institutions can be changed. In short: The world can be made a better place for everyone — we can have progress without poverty. This message was promulgated by George’s “Single Tax” movement and taken by Populists, Progressives, and other reformers into their own movements.
New trends emerged in the field of economics, yet they offered little remedy for the devastating economic and political upheavals of the 20th century. In response, institutions like the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation (1925), the Henry George School of Social Science (1932) and the School of Economic Science (1937) worked to spread the message of Progress and Poverty and have made it the subject of enthusiastic study to the present day. Hundreds of thousands of readers have been inspired by its vision of an economic order where prosperity, justice, and sustainability need not be “traded off” against one another.
Despite the wonders of 21st century technology, more people are working longer hours just to make ends meet (George predicted this, and proposed the remedy). Few people now have time to read a 600-page classic, no matter how inspiring it may be. In response, Bob Drake of the Chicago Henry George School began a five-year process of creating a “thought-by-thought translation” to adapt Progress and Poverty to the fast pace of modern readers, and to shorten the book to about half its original length. According to Drake, his goal was “to say what Henry George said in simpler sentences, to follow his thought process as he presented it.”
Today’s world has seen poverty and destruction increase while wealth and power concentrates into fewer and fewer hands. The message of Progress and Poverty is more relevant than ever. As the famous choreographer Agnes De Mille wrote for the 100th anniversary edition: “We are on the brink. It is possible to have a new Dark Ages. But in George there is a voice of hope.”