Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality

Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age

By Edward T. O’Donnell

We have long needed a modern account of the ideas of Henry George, one set in the context of the vast inequalities of wealth in the Gilded Age.... Edward T. O’Donnell has provided it in a fascinating book that shows how the social realities and conflicts of that era speak to our own unequal times.

~ Eric Foner, Columbia University

[A] brilliant introduction to George’s life, ideas, and politics, showing that inequality can generate political movements that challenge the rich and powerful. Highly recommended.

~ Sven Beckert, Harvard University

America’s explosion of industrial output and national wealth at the end of the 19th Century was matched by a rise in poverty and worker unrest that threatened the nation’s republican traditions. As politicians and intellectuals fought over the causes of this crisis, Henry George (1839-1897) published his radical critique, Progress and Poverty (1879), which became a surprise best-seller. It offered a provocative solution to the crisis: a Single Tax on land values. George’s popularity almost won the mayor’s seat in New York City in 1886; while his ideas proved instrumental in shaping a popular progressivism that remains essential to tackling inequality today.

Edward T. O’Donnell’s exploration of George’s life and times merges labor, ethnic, intellectual, and political history to illuminate the early militant labor movement in New York during the Gilded Age. George’s rise to prominence marked the beginning of a larger American labor movement to regain control of the workplace and obtain economic security and opportunity. The Gilded Age was the first, but not the last, era in which Americans confronted the mixed outcomes of modern capitalism. George’s accessible, forward-thinking ideas on democracy, equality, and freedom have great value for today’s debates over labor unions, corporate power, Wall Street recklessness, government regulation, rising inequality, and political domination by the 1%.

ISBN: 978-0231120005

HC: 376 pp, 2015, Columbia University Press 

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