The causes of social problems exist on many levels. When we ask why social problems such as poverty, unemployment, crime, and war exist, each time we determine a cause, we can ask "why" again, as children often do until they are hushed. Poverty exists because some folks can't find jobs or the jobs pay poorly. But then why is the wage level so low? Because of the tax and land-tenure systems. Why do we have those systems? Because special interests pay to legislate it. Why do special interests get away with it? The voting structure lets them. Why does that structure exist? The voters don't demand to change it. Why not?
When we dig down through all the layers to the roots of the causes, we find three fundamental causes of social problems: ignorance, apathy, and greed. The ultimate remedy for social problems therefore must confront all three root causes. It does little good to just run down the street shouting "share the rent!" or "stop war!". Uttering a slogan does no good unless it arouses sympathy.
As an example of the interplay between ignorance, apathy, and greed, consider the problem of pollution. Suppose the most efficient preventative is a pollution charge based on the damage caused by each pollutant. However, the government regulates pollution instead, a policy failure that needlessly reduces employment and economic growth. One possible cause is ignorance.
But suppose the best policy is known. The owners of the polluting industries seek to influence legislation to prevent the best policy. Because of their campaign contributions and other favors, the government adopts the poorer policy. The cause in this case is greed, both by the influence seeker...
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...es for social problems, including the economics, politics, and ethics of the problems and solutions. Then when they educate others, they must at the same time invoke their antipathy to the problem and arouse their sympathy with the remedy. When the masses are roused with sympathy and armed with knowledge of the remedy, the few greedy opponents will either be swayed themselves to join the righteous battle, or be overwhelmed by the greater force of the righteous revolution. To remedy social ills, replace ignorance, apathy and greed with knowledge, sympathy, and charity.
George, Henry, 1879, Progress and Poverty. New York: Schalkenbach Foundation, 1971
Henry George Foundation web site, www.henrygeorge.org Accessed on 8-26-04.
Holy Bible. Authorized King James Version. Ed. C.I. Scofield. New Scofield Reference Edition. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.
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