What did Henry George and Edward Bellamy propose to do about the unequal distribution of wealth?
Both Henry George in Progress and Poverty, and Edward Bellamy in Looking Backward attempted to come up with innovation ways to deal with the social problems caused by unequal distribution of wealth in the late nineteenth century.
Henry George travelled both to California and New York and noted that poverty and wealth were both more extreme in the older New York. He also noted that population pressures in both places meant that land prices were rising. This meant the owners of the land could extract more in rents without adding any value, and the people renting the land, either to farm in the west or to have living space in a New York tenement, were paying more for it. The wealth inequality was greater in New York because the land owners had had a longer period in which to extract rents. This led to a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. He proposed allowing people to privatize, or keep for themselves, the earnings from what they produced or the improvements they made to land. However, he proposed that the profits from land rents and other natural resources be heavily taxed and redistributed.
Edward Bellamy was more purely socialist. He proposed getting rid of capitalist competition and private control of the means of production. Government would own the banks and factories, and the profits would be equally distributed among the people. While Bellamy said Looking Backward, a novel set in the year 2000 in which socialism had taken over, was merely fiction, his ideas became very popular.
In the late-nineteenth century, many people were shocked by the unequal distribution of wealth in American society. One such person was Henry George, a journalist, who faced his own share of financial problems while raising his family. For George, the central problem was that only a few people in society benefited from rising land values and their high rents. He thus proposed to resolve this unequal distribution of wealth by replacing all taxes with a 'single tax' on what he called 'unearned increment' - an increase in the value of a piece of land which is caused by demand, not by any improvements carried out by the owner. George's idea was very popular and almost led him to become the mayor of New York.
In contrast, Edward Bellamy, an author and socialist, proposed a solution in which the means of production (factories and businesses) were no longer the property of businessmen and were instead controlled by the government. Bellamy idealised this vision in his 1888 novel, Looking Backward, and it was immediately popular with the American public. Unfortunately, his socialist ideas were never adopted but the government did introduce legislation to prohibit trade monopolies.