Rent and the Cost of War.
Sydney L. Milliard.
The question has been asked, "Where, before war breaks out, is the money which is later spent on the war?"
It has been shown that it is not in the laborers' pockets, because the laborers are better off when the war has broken out, and that they have more and not less during the war. It is not being distributed in legitimate profits because legitimate profits are greater after the war has broken out. It is not being distributed in interest because interest is higher after war has broken out. It must be somewhere, in some location that is hurt by the outbreak of war. Money comes from somewhere for war purposes. Therefore the people who had that money before the war must be poorer. Who are they?
They are owners of rents and of spurious capital. By spurious capital is meant various bonds and stocks that represent merely the power to tax industry and which do not represent real bonafide industrial machinery at all. And principally they are the owners of economic rent.
It has been asked why France made such a quick recovery after 1870. Before 1870 one third of the wealth of France went in rents. The owners of these rents had to be kept by France in idle luxury. The war broke land values into nothing. France had not this money to pay away to useless aristocracies so she was able to pay for the war with it, and later to pay the indemnity, too. And in addition to this the demand for produce so increased that every worker had plenty to do at good wages, and was therefore able to buy the produce of other workers, and this condition caused the war to be not only not a disability to France, but a positive benefit.
In England before the great war one third of the national income went direct to the pockets of the ducal landowners. These men constituted a vastly greater charge upon English production in the long run than any war, big or little, has ever done. This charge of one third of the national income has been going on for ages, and always increasing in volume. It is a total national loss. There is absolutely no come-back from these ducal families. One third of the nation has to work for them, and they do nothing in return. Nothing reaches this condition but the Single Tax and war. The single tax we cannot get — not yet; war we have. What does war do?
The war has sent thousands of the British aristocracy to the front where they fight for their living; it has sent the country estates to the bargain counter at such figures as never were heard of before — they are almost giving them away. Even in the big cities land sales at former figures have abruptly stopped, and in Paris, with the German army in sight, land values ceased to exist. Should the kaiser really set foot in force on British soil the value of London real estate would vanish.
To revert to our original proposition, — "Where, before war breaks out, is the money which is later spent on war?"
It is inherent in the price of land; it inheres in rent; it goes into the pockets of a few owners of economic rent who are just as direct a charge on the community as is war. Wipe these people and their charge out and you can easily pay for your war. Take away this national charge of one-third of the national income to the owners of the soil and you can keep your war going in perpetuity and never miss the money. You are simply spending money that is already lost. You are not spending money on the war that you already had; you are spending money on the war that some one else already had to the infinite detriment; are throwing away bad money, money that could otherwise be put to a worse use than war, namely, luxury and degeneracy.
As it is in Europe, so will it be in America if a real war ever breaks out here. If the combined European fleets were bombarding New York, and you owned New York real estate you would not expect to realize very much on your property. Still less could you realize if the combined European armies were encamped around New York. Since the wars have been going on in Mexico, rents have almost disappeared and much land value has entirely so. But in Mexico the destruction has gone beyond the wiping out of land value and has destroyed actual necessary commodities.
Henry George said that "All taxation ultimately falls on rent." War is taxation. It falls on rent. Then comes an added advantage. It breaks loose the foundations of industry which so-called over-production has bound up. It enables the workers to get to the machinery of production and the idle land and produce goods which they by this time have money enough to buy. The state, which before the war was simply a negative observer of a cancer eating its own vitals, now becomes a positive agent in spreading employment, wealth, and general business. The state demands everything that can be produced, and at good prices. Now everyone is in demand, and at good wages. Before the war the aristocracy could not buy the products of mill and mine and field; the aristocracy couldn't consume these products, therefore the mills shut down. War can consume them, so the mills open up at full speed and wages! "Where, before war breaks out, is the money which is later spent on war?" Answer: In the pockets of the owners of economic rent. War breaks this down and distributes it amongst the workers in payment for value received. How can we produce this condition in time of peace? Answer: By doing away with economic rent through the imposition of the single tax, and then using that wealth to buy up the product of the national toil to be used for the benefit of the whole people.