"Amid the greatest accumulation of wealth," Henry George keenly observed, "men die of starvation." The extremes of wealth and poverty in nineteenth century America troubled him deeply. By the 1870s, he had a solution to the problem: a "single tax" on land.
Though he left school at the age of 14, George educated himself by reading and attending lectures. At 16, he joined the crew of a ship sailing for India, where he first became aware of the wide gap between rich and poor.
Back in America, he bounced from one job to another before settling down as a writer and editor in California. Struggling to support his wife and children, George came up with an idea to create economic equality. Landowners contributed nothing to the nation's economy, he argued, while charging farmers and others rent to use their land.
As land values rose, the rich got richer but the poor remained poor. A tax on rent collected by landowners, George concluded, would provide enough money to run the government and eliminate poverty; no other taxes would be needed.
George first published his single-tax plan in the 1871 pamphlet "Our Land and Land Policy" and then in 1879 in the widely read Progress and Poverty, which sold more than two million copies. George's plan was never adopted, but it won support around the world and made George famous.
George twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City.