George v Mill Essay

            In both articles, the writers are examining supposed causes of poverty in an over- populated culture, namely the injustice of society and the niggardliness of nature being the primary culprits.  Each author feels that one and not the other is directly responsible for poverty.  Henry George contends that the injustice of society causes poverty, whereas John Stuart Mill asserts that the niggardliness of nature is what causes penury.  The extremity of the presented view points seems to indicate that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  A thorough assessment of both angles will invariably lead to that conclusion.

            Henry George vehemently contends that in an over-populated society, injustice causes poverty, and not the niggardliness of nature.  En route to this conclusion, he questions a number of currently accepted theories which stand counter to his own.  The first of which assumes that in a given system more people will equate with a reduction in the amount of wealth that said system will be able to produce with a given amount of effort.  The second rejected premise contends that the more a group asks of nature, the less they will receive; in essence, doubled effort doesn’t necessarily result in doubled output.  George alleges that both of these view points are incorrect, that in any society, a larger number of people can greater attend to its own needs than can a smaller grouping.  The author further claims that in this larger society, each newcomer would bring with him at least the tools necessary to produce for himself,  and  more than likely he would produce a surplus that would add to the overall wealth of the society.  George expresses the belief that if there is an equal distribution of wealth, then more people engaged in creating wealth will lead directly to more wealth for all.  If justly distributed, the resources in a society would effectively make everyone in that society wealthier with the increase in population, as opposed to impoverishing them.  This viewpoint is the antithesis of John Stuart Mill’s

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            Mill’s opinion stands in direct contrast to that of George.  He asserts that in an overpopulated society, nature herself puts a limit on what can be accomplished.  Further, he states that even if resources were evenly distributed, it wouldn’t eliminate the boundary of what nature would allow to be accomplished.  The crux of Mill’s argument and where it differs from George’s is that every newcomer to this society, while bringing a mouth, wouldn’t necessarily bring capable hands.  So while the needs of the society would increase, the production of the society would not.  Even if the needs were met from the outset, as the people prospered, their numbers would grow, and consequently, the amount of wealth that this society generated would be surpassed by its numbers.  The only way that the people can continue to enjoy prosperity, in Mill’s opinion, would be if the factors of production were to outpace, or develop at the same rate as the growth of the populace, a possibility which Mill does not see.  More work would be required, and there is no guarantee that the increased labor would result in increased production.  Mill then foresees a gradual decline, as the society’s enlarged populace would drain the resources available until the population’s growth would be halted by its death from underproduction.  Ultimately, Mills concludes that even if you could accurately distribute the wealth, there is a natural limit to what could be accomplished.

            It is my conclusion that the most accurate assessment lies between the assertions of each theorist.    Each author’s premise has a qualifier.  George assumes that there is equal distribution of resources, whereas Mill assumes that the proverbial pie has a limit as to how large it can be.  The truth is in the middle.  More contributors won’t drain the resource pool, provided they are all producing at a level commiserate with their consumption.  However, if any part of the stops producing on par with its consumption of resources, that invariably leads to a drain which, if left unchecked, would lead to the demise of said society.  Considering both of the previous statements, I was lead to the conclusion that George’s position is the more plausible.  If everyone were to receive an equal division of wealth, and to produce at a satisfactory level, then newcomers to a society would lead to more wealth for said society, because they were starting on a level playing field.


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