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Once You ‘See the Cat’, You’ll Finally Understand

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

In the 1880s, Judge James G Maguire of the Superior Court of the city and county of San Francisco gave a speech to the New York Anti-Poverty Society. He said:

‘I was one day walking along Kearney Street in San Francisco when I noticed a crowd in front of a show window…I took a glance myself, but I saw only a poor picture of an uninteresting landscape.

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As I was turning away my eye caught these words underneath the picture: “Do you see the cat?”
…I spoke to the crowd, “Gentlemen, I do not see a cat in the picture; is there a cat there?
Someone in the crowd replied, “Naw, there ain’t no cat there! Here’s a crank who says he sees a cat in it, but none of the rest of us can…” Then the crank spoke up. “I tell you”, he said, “there IS a cat there. The picture is all cat!…
…and then, there it was! Sure enough, just as the crank had said;

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But now that I saw the cat, I could see nothing else in the picture!…and I was never afterwards able, upon looking at that picture, to see anything in it *but* the cat.

Maguire’s story was intended as a parable for land’s economic role.

Like the cat in the picture, it is blindingly obvious once it becomes clear — so obvious, in fact, it is hard to see anything but the land.

The man who electrified the world

Maguire was inspired by a passage in the 19th-century political treatise ‘Progress and Poverty’ by US journalist Henry George.

One of his famous passages was:

‘That as land is necessary to the exertion of labour in the production of wealth, to command the land which is necessary to labour, is to command all the fruits of labour save enough to enable labour to exist.

George had no formal education to speak of.

He left school at 14 and drifted in and out of poverty until securing steady employment as a typographer for the newly created San Francisco Times — later going on to edit his own newspapers.

However, George was an avid reader, and he studied the great classical economists such as David Ricardo and Adam Smith.

He understood the relationship between the three factors of production, land, labour, and capital — and he used these tools to dissect the system.

He wrote:

Take now…some hard-headed businessman, who has no theories, but knows how to make money. Say to him:

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