Land Value Taxation will solve many of the 21st century's most serious social, economic and environmental problems, and promote justice, fairness and sustainability. We CAN have a world in which all can prosper.
Progress and Poverty, by Henry George Here are links to online editions of George's landmark book, Progress & Poverty, including audio and a number of abridgments -- the shortest is 30 words! I commend this book to your attention, if you are concerned about economic justice, poverty, sprawl, energy use, pollution, wages, housing affordability. Its observations will change how you approach all these problems. A mind-opening experience!
Henry George: Progress and Poverty: An inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth ... The Remedy This is perhaps the most important book ever written on the subjects of poverty, political economy, how we might live together in a society dedicated to the ideals Americans claim to believe are self-evident. It will provide you new lenses through which to view many of our most serious problems and how we might go about solving them: poverty, sprawl, long commutes, despoilation of the environment, housing affordability, wealth concentration, income concentration, concentration of power, low wages, etc. Read it online, or in hardcopy.
Bob Drake's abridgement of Henry George's original: Progress and Poverty: Why There Are Recessions and Poverty Amid Plenty -- And What To Do About It! This is a very readable thought-by-thought updating of Henry George's longer book, written in the language of a newsweekly. A fine way to get to know Henry George's ideas. Available online at progressandpoverty.org and http://www.henrygeorge.org/pcontents.htm
Where Else Might You Look?
Wealth and Want The URL comes from the subtitle to Progress & Poverty -- and the goal is widely shared prosperity in the 21st century. How do we get there from here? A roadmap and a reference source.
Reforming the Property Tax for the Common Good I'm a tax reform activist who seeks to promote fairness and reduce poverty. Let's start with the enabling legislation and state requirements for the property tax. There are opportunities for great good!
It's human nature to want more, and to attempt to receive it in the easiest ways. (Henry George expressed it: "The fundamental principle of human action -- the law that is to political economy what the law of gravitation is to physics -- is that men seek to gratify their desires with the least exertion.")
But we don't have to structure our economy to allow some of us to receive significant shares of the total production of society that they didn't create, to steal from those who do produce, to privatize the value of natural resources or of that which the community as a whole creates.
It is easy to become addicted to taking for oneself that which others create. We imprison some people for it; others we permit to call themselves "self-made" men.
Asking some to share 25% with others, out of the goodness of their hearts, seems to be a very shallow substitute for restructuring the entire system.
Mr. Polk seemed to be on the right track when he raised the question, “ 'But isn’t it better for the system as a whole? I asked. The room went quiet, and my boss shot me a withering look. I remember his saying, 'I don’t have the brain capacity to think about the system as a whole. All I’m concerned with is how this affects our company.' ”
We need the brain capacity to think about the system as a whole.
I've not found any analysis of "the system as a whole" that was more relevant and descriptive than that of Henry George.
I can easily imagine a great proprietor of ground rents in the metropolis calling attention to the habitations of the poor, to the evils of overcrowding, and to the scandals which the inquiry reveals, while his own income is greatly increased by the causes which make house-rent dear in London, and decent lodging hardly obtainable by thousands of laborers.
The masthead for "The New Earth" -- by 1899 already in volume XI -- says "Devoted to the study and illustration of Social Problems on Moral and Religious Grounds."
Below that, each issue says,
The opening of all natural opportunities to Labor and Capital, so that both may be fully and constantly employed and receive their full earnings.
TO EFFECT THIS,
We would take through taxation the rental value of land, completely exempting improvements, and would use this revenue for public purposes in lieu of the taxes that now oppress labor and Capital and restrict their productive employment.
In our address "To our readers " last month we advanced the proposition, which indeed is an almost self-evident truth, that the better side of human nature, the side of him which lifts man above mere animalism and materialism, which enables him to transcend mere self-seeking and to find his highest delight in ministering to the welfare of others, requires for its orderly growth and development, social and material conditions which shall parallel, correspond to or embody this better side of us. We maintained that it was as irrational on the part of sincere religious-minded people to expect the graces of the spirit to flourish in social conditions which bear no relation to these graces save that of inveterate antagonism to them as it would be on the part of a farmer to expect a crop of wheat from seed sown on the sand of a rainless desert. Social conditions are, of course, no more the cause of the higher life of man, than fertile ground is the cause of the crop. They are simply the soil in which the higher life can germinate and be nursed to maturity. The cause in the one case is within man himself, as in the other it is within the seed; in both cases it is the creative energy.
But man, both as an individual and as a race, is at first unconscious of this better nature of his, as well as of the kind of life of which it is capable, and through which it must eventually express itself. He becomes conscious of this part of himself by degrees, one step at a time. This process is called evolution. But all evolution necessitates a corresponding previous involution. No plant can grow, or be evolved, from a seed unless the germ of the plant first exist within the seed. So in the case of mankind, no advance in social development is possible unless the germ of better social conditions be within man himself.
Of this germ within it mankind becomes conscious slowly and as the years and ages roll by. It first takes the form of aspirations, and longings and hopes for gentler, humaner and juster relations between men, and of clearer and ever clearer perceptions in respect to the character of the Creator and His relations to His creatures. But these aspirations and perceptions must ever remain as dreams more than any thing else, and even then be confined to a few, until they become sensibly imaged or embodied in corresponding social conditions.
That society as at present organized bears true relation neither to our best aspirations nor to the conceptions of the character of the Creator entertained by every intelligent mind needs no showing. That our Creator and source of life should be a respecter of persons, that He should consider some of His creatures as more fitting objects of His regard than others, that He should provide for the eternal progress of some and leave that of others unprovided for, is a conception of Him utterly discarded by every man today whose mental growth has gone beyond that of the dark ages. But such gross conception of the Creator is just that of which organized society at this day is an embodiment. The kind of ownership of the natural opportunities with which we invest some among us is a representative picture of a conception of the Creator that makes Him a capricious, unjust monarch, granting privileges to a few favorites, and venting His spleen on all others. This is the only kind of conception of His character possible to the great mass of human beings as long as such conditions exist. Preach as we may, institute revivals of religion as we may, no other conception of the Creator can germinate, bear fruit and be a reality among us than this pagan and savage one.
To every honest holder of the more enlightened conceptions of the character of the Creator, then, the questions at once present themselves: What are the principles which society must recognize in order that social and material conditions may fittingly reflect these conceptions; and what can I do to bring about these conditions? True belief, especially on a subject of this kind, must lead to action. The self-satisfaction of entertaining more enlightened convictions than others, and being content with that, is the most hideous form of unbelief.
The answer to these questions is not hard to discover. Organized society, in order that it make any approach to the conditions required of it as a soil in which may flourish true ideas of spiritual life must recognize the equal right of all its members in the bounties of nature and the opportunities offered by the general advance of civilization. It must find means jealously to protect these rights amid all the changing and more and more complex conditions which every progressing body of people must experience.
We, now, unhesitatingly assert that only by building upon the Single Tax ideal can these rights be maintained. In no other way can any real equality of opportunity be assured to every one. When the rental value of land, and nothing but that, is taken through taxation and spent for public needs, opportunities for making a living become open to all more equally than would be possible under any artificially devised scheme of government control. The Single Tax would do the work automatically, and without the the friction and consequent waste of power involved in any direct control and allotment of opportunities by the government.
The Single Tax would, moreover, provide another requirement of orderly social conditions. It would make every man work out his own material salvation, and so embody to us the truth that every man must work out his own spiritual salvation. Under the Single Tax there would be no royal road to the acquisition of material wealth, even as there is no royal road to the acquisition of mental wealth or of spiritual riches.
A tax upon ground-rents would not raise the rent of houses. It would fall altogether upon the owner of the ground-rent, who acts always as a monopolist and exacts the greatest rent which can be got for the use of the ground.
— ADAM SMITH, Wealth of Nations (1776), Book V., Chap. 2, Art. I.
I've taken some liberties with the formatting, because sometimes bullet points help ... you can find the original in the online library at http://schalkenbach.org/ I was fortunate enoguh to meet Bob
The Earth is the Lord's
by Robert V. Andelson Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama
George Bernard Shaw, in a letter written in 1905 to Hamlin Garland, describes how, more than twenty years earlier, he had attended Henry George's first platform appearance in London. He knew at once, he said, that the speaker must be an American, for four reasons:
"Because he pronounced 'necessarily' . . . with the accent on the third syllable instead of the first;
because he was deliberately and intentionally oratorical, which is not customary among shy people like the English;
because he spoke of Liberty, Justice, Truth, Natural Law, and other strange 18th-century superstitions; and
because he explained with great simplicity and sincerity the views of the Creator, who had gone completely out of fashion in London in the previous decade and had not been heard of there since."
George's magnum opus, Progress and Poverty (the centenary of which occurred in 1979), is characterized by the same moral and religious emphasis remarked by Shaw in its author's London lecture, an emphasis that rises in the final chapter to the noble declaration of a faith revived. It is, I think, therefore entirely appropriate that I focus today on the moral and religious aspects of his basic proposal for economic reform — his proposal to lift the burden of taxation from the fruits of individual labor, while appropriating for public use the socially-engendered value of the land.
For land value taxation is
not just a fiscal measure (although it is a fiscal measure, and a sound one);
not just a method of urban redevelopment (although it is a method of urban redevelopment, and an effective one);
not just a means of stimulating business (although it is a means of stimulating business, and a wholesome one);
not just an answer to unemployment (although it is an answer to unemployment, and a powerful one),
not just a way to better housing (although it is a way to better housing, and a proven one);
not just an approach to rational land use (although it is an approach to rational land use, and a non-bureaucratic one).
It is all of these things, but it is also something infinitely more: it is the affirmation, prosaic though it be, of a fundamental spiritual principle — that "the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof."
It is the affirmation of the same principle to which Moses gave embodiment in the institution of the Jubilee, and in the prohibition against removing ancient landmarks, and in the decree that the land shall not be sold forever. It is the affirmation of the same principle to which the prophets of old gave utterance when they inveighed against those who lay field to field, and who use their neighbor's service without wages. It is the affirmation of the same principle to which Koheleth gave voice when he asserted in the fifth chapter of Ecclesiastes that "the profit of the earth is for all."
The earth is the Lord's! Consider what this means. It means that
our God is not a pale abstraction.
Our God is not a remote being who sits enthroned on some ethereal height, absorbed in the contemplation of his own perfection, oblivious to this grubby realm in which we live.
Our God is concerned with the tangible, with the mundane, with what goes on in the field, in the factory, in the courthouse, in the exchange.
Our God is the maker of a material world — a world of eating and sleeping and working and begetting, a world he loved so much that he himself became flesh and blood for its salvation. In this sense, then,
our God is eminently materialistic, and nowhere is this more clearly recognized than in the Bible, which, for that very reason, has always been a stumbling-block and an offense to those Gnostics, past and present, whose delicacy is embarrassed by the fact that they inhabit bodies, and for whom religion is essentially the effort to escape from or deny that fact.
Our God is not a dainty aesthete who considers politics and economics subjects too crass or sordid for his notice.
Neither is he a capricious tyrant who has enjoined an order of distribution that condemns retirees after a lifetime of toil to subsist on cat food while parasitic sybarites titillate palates jaded by the most refined achievements of the haute cuisine. It is men who have enjoined this order in denial of his sovereignty, in defiance of his righteous will.
The earth is the Lord's! To the biblical writers, this was no mere platitude. They spelled out what it meant in concrete terms. For them, it meant that the material universe which had been provided as a storehouse of natural opportunity for the children of men was not to be monopolized or despoiled or treated as speculative merchandise, but was rather to be used reverently, and conserved dutifully, and, above all, maintained as a source from which every man, by the application of his labor, might sustain himself in decent comfort. It was seen as an inalienable trust, which no individual or class could legitimately appropriate so as to exclude others, and which no generation could legitimately barter away.
The earth is the Lord's! With the recognition of this principle comes the recognition of the right of every man to the produce which the earth has yielded to his efforts. As the Apostle Paul says in his first letter to the Church at Corinth, if the ox has a right to a share in the grain which it treads out, surely a human being must have a right to the fruits of his labor. For the exercise of this right, he is, of course, accountable to God — but against the world, it holds.
To one who takes seriously, as I do, that insight about human nature which is expressed in the doctrine of original sin, there can be nothing self-evident about the rights of man. In the words of my friend, Edmund A. Opitz, "the idea of natural rights is not the kind of concept which has legs of its own to stand on; as a deduction from religious premises it makes sense, otherwise not." The French Revolution and its culmination in the Reign of Terror demonstrated that humanistic assumptions afford no secure foundation for the concept of human rights. That concept, for the believer, can be neither understood nor justified except in terms of what Lord Acton so eloquently speaks of as "the equal claim of every man to be unhindered in the fulfilment by man of duty to God."
This is what it comes down to: How can a person be "unhindered in the fulfilment of duty to God" if he be denied, on the one hand, fair access to nature, the raw material without which there can be no wealth; and on the other, the full and free ownership of his own labor and its earnings?
You who have studied the history of the Peasants' Revolt in sixteenth century Germany know that in calling for the abolition of serfdom and the restoration of the common lands, the peasants were simply voicing demands which were logically implied by Luther's doctrine of the priesthood of all believers — that the service of God to which all the faithful are elected requires, as I have said, access to the land and its resources, and the free disposal of one's person and of the guerdon [editor's note: reward] of one's toil. Despite the excesses that accompanied this uprising, Luther's part in the suppression of a movement which stemmed logically from his own teaching must always be a source of pain to those of us who revere him for his spiritual genius and integrity.
The earth is the Lord's! The same God who established the just authority of governments has also in his providence ordained for the major source of revenue. Allow me to quote from Henry George:
In the great social fact that as population increases, and improvements are made, and men progress in civilization, the one thing that rises everywhere in value is land, we may see a proof of the beneficence of the Creator . . . In a rude state of society where there is no need for common expenditure, there is no value attaching to land. The only value which attaches there is to things produced by labor. But as civilization goes on, as a division of labor takes place, as men come into centers, so do the common wants increase and so does the necessity for public revenue arise. And so in that value which attaches to land, not by reason of anything the individual does, but by reason of the growth of the community, is a provision, intended — we may safely say intended — to meet that social want. Just as society grows, so do the common needs grow, and so grows the value attaching to land — the provided fund from which they can be supplied (George 1889).
On another occasion he wrote:
The tax on land values is the most just and equal of all taxes. It falls only upon those who receive from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon them in proportion to the benefit they receive. It is the taking by the community, for the use of the community, of that value which is the creation of the community. It is the application of the common property to common uses (George, P&P, 421).
And yet, my friends, in the topsy-turvy world in which we live, this provided fund goes mainly into the pockets of speculators and monopolists, while the body politic meets its needs by extorting from individual producers the fruits of honest toil. If ever there were any doubt about the perversity of human nature, our present system of taxation is the proof! Everywhere about us, we see the ironic spectacle of the community penalizing the individual for his industry and initiative, and taking away from him a share of that which he produces, yet at the same time lavishing upon the non-producer undeserved windfalls which it — the community — produces. And, as Winston Churchill put it, the unearned increment, the socially-produced value of the land, is reaped by the speculator in exact proportion, not to the service, but to the disservice, done. "The greater the injury to society, the greater the reward."
We hear constantly a vast clamor against the abuse of welfare. I do not for a moment condone such abuse. Yet I ask you, who is the biggest swiller at the public trough?
Is it the sluggard who refuses to seek work when there is work available?
Is it the slattern who generates offspring solely for the sake of the allotment they command?
Or is it the man — perhaps a civic leader and a pillar of his church — who sits back, and, with perfect propriety and respectability, collects thousands and maybe even millions of dollars in unearned increments created by the public, as his reward for withholding land from those who wish to put it to productive use.
Talk about free enterprise! This isn't free enterprise; this is a free ride.
But if that same person were to improve his site — if he were to use it to beautify his neighborhood, or to provide goods for consumers and jobs for workers, or housing for his fellow townsmen — instead of being treated as the public benefactor he had become, he would be fined as if he were a criminal, in the form of heavier taxes. What kind of justice is this, I ask you? How does it comport with the Divine Plan, or with the notion of human rights?
Let me make this clear: Acquisitiveness, or the "profit motive," if you will, is a well-nigh universal fact of human nature, and I have no wish to suggest that the land monopolist or speculator has any corner on it. Even when I speak of him as a parasite, this is not to single him out for personal moral condemnation. He is not necessarily any more greedy than the average run of people. As my late friend, Sidney G. Evans, used to say: "if you have to live under a corrupt system, it's better to be a beneficiary than a victim of it." But the profit motive can be channeled in ways which are socially desirable as well as in ways which are socially destructive. Is it not our duty to do everything we can to build an order without victims one in which the profit motive is put to use in such a way that everybody benefits?
I do not harbor the illusion that the millennium is going to be ushered in by any program of social betterment. My theological orientation does not happen to be one which minimizes the stubbornness of man's depravity. Yet to make the depth of human wickedness an alibi for indifference to the demands of social justice is to ignore the will of him who said:
Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:23-24)
To some of you, the promotion of specific programs for social justice is seen as part of the responsibility of the institutional church; to others it is not. But all of us, I am sure, can agree that the individual Christian (or Jew or Moslem, Hindu or Buddhist, as the case may be) has a solemn moral obligation to study the issues carefully, and then involve himself strenuously in whatever social and political efforts his informed conscience tells him best advance the cause of right.
O shame to us who rest content While lust and greed for gain In street and shop and tenement Wring gold from human pain, And bitter lips in blind despair Cry, "Christ hath died in vain!" Give us, O God, the strength to build The city that hath stood Too long a dream, whose laws are love, Whose ways are brotherhood, And where the sun that shineth is God's grace for human good.*
The earth is the Lord's!
* From "O Holy City, Seen of John" by Walter Russell Bowie. Copyright, 1910, by A. S. Barnes and Company. Quoted by permission.
"I find this vast net-work, which you call property, extending over the whole planet. I cannot occupy the bleakest crag of the White Hills or the Allegheny Range, but some man or corporation steps up to me to show me that it is his."
— EMERSON, The Conservative.
Extended excerpts from The Conservative (an 1841 speech) follow ...
I found this in a file belonging to my grandparents; they used it as part of their Christmas card in 1979. As a young teenager, I met John Monroe; he was a dear friend of my grandparents.
Frederick Monroe, in a letter to his son, John Lawrence Monroe, November 11, 1927; from the Euclid Hotel, Cleveland, Ohio.
Founder, Henry George Lecture Association, October 19, 1903, and its President until his death in 1929. Born April 7, 1865, Arcola, Illinois; Died August 26, 1929, Palos Park, Illinois.
Every day I am more and more impressed with the idea that the biggest work one can do in life is to use every power at one's command in advancing the human race.
The aspiration to be of service in this way is a spark that alights in your soul and pushes you forward to a life of broad, useful work.
The one imbued with this spirit sees ahead what should be done, and labors to advance this great objective entirely regardless of impediments encountered. He receives enjoyment out of every moment of his life. He takes human nature as he finds it, and appreciates at all times that his work is necessary because human nature is as it is.
Personally, I feel that I was most fortunate in having this spirit become the dominating power in my life in the days of my boyhood, and I feel that my efforts have not been in vain.
The post below this one is my attempt. Here's another, from Sunday's NYT.
By JILL LEPORE | Published: October 15, 2011
Jill Lepore is a professor of history at Harvard and the author of “The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History.”
A cartoon of Henry George when he ran for mayor of New York in 1886.
IN the Republican debate on Tuesday, the restaurant industry executive Herman Cain, deftly countering a quip, said his “9, 9, 9” economic plan, which calls for a 9 percent corporate tax, a 9 percent income tax and a 9 percent national sales tax, “didn’t come off a pizza box.” Asked where it did come from, he said “the American people,” but added that he also has a team of economic advisers.
“One of my experts that helped me to develop this is a gentleman by the name of Rich Lowrie out of Cleveland, Ohio,” Mr. Cain said. “He is an economist.” Mr. Lowrie, a licensed stockbroker, is a wealth management consultant for Wells Fargo.
Henry George, the most popular American economic thinker of the 19th century, was a populist before populism had a name. His economic plan was known as the Single Tax. His plan wasn’t 9-9-9; it was just: 1.
George was born in Philadelphia in 1839. He left school at 14 to sail to India and Australia on board a ship called the Hindoo. At the time, a lot of people were writing about India as a place of jewels and romance; George was struck by its poverty.
Returning to Philadelphia, he became a printer’s apprentice. He went to New York where he saw, for the first time, “the shocking contrast between monstrous wealth and debasing want.” In 1858, he joined the crew of a ship sailing around the Cape Horn because it was the only way he could afford to get to California. In San Francisco, he edited a newspaper; it soon failed. He spent most of his life editing newspapers, and, as with every other industry in the 19th century, many of them failed. In 1865, George was reduced to begging in the streets.
The 19th century was the Age of Progress: the steam engine, the power loom, the railroad. (Awestruck wonder at progress animated that era the way the obsession with innovation animates American politics today.) George believed that the other side of progress was poverty. The railroad crossed the continent in 1869. From the West, George wrote an essay called “What the Railroad Will Bring Us.” His answer: the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. In a Fourth of July oration in 1877, George declared, “no nation can be freer than its most oppressed, richer than its poorest, wiser than its most ignorant.”
In 1879, George finished a draft of his most important book. “Discovery upon discovery, and invention after invention, have neither lessened the toil of those who most need respite, nor brought plenty to the poor,” George wrote. He thought the solution was to abolish all taxes on labor and instead impose a single tax, on land. He sent the manuscript to New York. When no one would publish it, he set the type himself and begged publishers simply to ink his plates. The book, “Progress and Poverty,” sold three million copies.
George was neither a socialist nor a communist; he influenced Tolstoy but he disagreed with Marx. He saw himself as defending “the Republicanism of Jefferson and the Democracy of Jackson.” He had a bit of Melville in him (the sailor) and some of Thoreau (“We do not ride on the railroad,” Thoreau wrote from Walden. “It rides upon us.”) But, really, he was a Tocquevillian. Tocqueville believed that democracy in America was made possible by economic equality: people with equal estates will eventually fight for, and win, equal political rights. George agreed. But he thought that speculative, industrial capitalism was destroying democracy by making economic equality impossible. A land tax would solve all.
In 1886, George decided to run for mayor of New York. Democrats urged him not to, telling him he had no chance and would only raise hell. “You have relieved me of embarrassment,” George answered. “I do not want the responsibility and the work of the office of the Mayor of New York, but I do want to raise hell.” The Democrat, Abram Hewitt, won, but George got more votes than the Republican, Theodore Roosevelt.
In the 1880s, George campaigned for the single tax, free trade and ballot reform. The last succeeded. George is why, on Election Day, your polling place supplies you with a ballot that you mark in secret. This is known as an Australian ballot, and George brought it back from his voyage halfway around the world.
George ran for mayor of New York again in 1897 but died in his bed four days before the election. His body lay in state at Grand Central. More than 100,000 mourners came to pay their respects. The New York Times said, “Not even Lincoln had a more glorious death.” And then: he was left behind.
Even Clarence Darrow, who admired him, recanted. “The error I found in the philosophy of Henry George,” Darrow wrote, “was its cocksureness, its simplicity, and the small value that it placed on the selfish motives of men.”
In a recent column in the NYT entitled "Description is Prescription", David Brooks made references to Tolstoy, and it sent me looking to see whether a book I remembered was available via Google Books. The book was written in 1905 by Bolton Hall, and it is entitled "What Tolstoy Taught." Its final chapter, "Human Rights," follows:
(Tolstoy proclaimed the law of love as enunciated by Christ; the political rights as enunciated by Thomas Jefferson; the economic rights as announced by Henry George: the two latter as amplifications of the first; all being essential to man's earthly welfare. Tolstoy's philosophy was progressive. At first he saw that the law of love was necessary; then he recognized the necessity of equal political rights; next he recognized that without economic justice these remedies were futile, and he accordingly embraced the philosophy of Henry George, as evidenced by the following article addressed to the Russian people.— Ed.)
A number of suggestions have been made as to how to divide, in the most just manner, all land among the workers, but of all these only the one made by the late Henry George appears to me to be practicable.
The property right, Henry George wrote in his book about the single tax, is founded not on human laws, but on the laws of God. It is undeniable and absolute, and everyone who violates It, be it an individual or a nation, commits a theft.
A man who catches a fish, who plants a tree, builds a house, constructs a machine, sews a dress or paints a picture, thereby becomes the owner of the results of his own efforts — he has the right to give them away, to sell them or to leave them to his heirs. As the land has not been created by us, and only serves as the temporary residence of changing generations of human beings, it is clear that nobody can own the exclusive right to possess land, and that the rights of all men to it are equal and inalienable.
The right to own land is limited by the equal rights of all others, and this imposes upon the temporary possessor of land the duty to remunerate society for the valuable privilege given him to use the land in his possession.
When we impose a tax upon houses, crops, or money in any form, we take from members of society something which by right belongs to them, we violate the property right and commit a theft in the name of the law; while when we impose a tax upon land we take from members of society something which does not belong to them, but to society, and which cannot be given to them except at a detriment to others. We thus violate the laws of justice when we place a tax on labor or the results of labor, and we also violate them if we do not levy a tax on land.
Let us, therefore, decide to stop levying all taxes except the tax on the value of land, regardless of the buildings erected or the improvements made on it, but only on the value which natural or social conditions give to it.
If we place this single tax on land the results will be these:
1. The tax will relieve us of the whole army of officials necessary to collect the present taxes, which will diminish the cost of government, at the same time making it more honest. It will rid us of all the taxes which lead to lying, to perjury, to frauds of all kinds. All land is visible, and cannot be hidden, and its value is fixed easier than that of any other property, and the single tax can be determined at less expense and less danger to public morals.
2. It will to a great extent increase the production of wealth, doing away with the discouraging tax upon labor and thrift, and it will make the land more accessible to those who want to work or improve, as the proprietors, who do not work themselves, but speculate in its increasing value, will find it difficult to keep up such expensive property. The tax on labor, on the other hand, leads to the accumulation of immense fortunes in a few hands, and the increasing poverty of the masses. This unjust division of wealth on one side leads to the creation of one class of people who are idle and corrupt, because they are too rich, and the creation of another class of people who are too poor, and thus doubly delays the production of wealth. This unjust division of wealth creates on one side terrible millionaires, and on the other side vagrants, beggars, thieves, gamblers and social parasites of various kinds, and necessitates an enormous expense for officials to watch these — policemen, judges, prisons and other means which society uses in self-defense.
The single tax is a remedy for all these evils.
I do not mean to say that this tax will transform human nature, for that is not within the power of man, but it will create conditions under which human nature will grow better instead of worse, as under the present conditions. It will make possible an increase of wealth, of which it is hardly possible to form an idea. It will make undeserved poverty impossible. It will do away with the demoralizing struggle for a living. It will make it possible for men to be honest, just, reasonable and noble, if they desire to be so. It will prepare the soil for the coming of the epoch of justice, abundance, peace and happiness, which Christ told His disciples of.
Let us suppose that in a certain place all land belongs to two owners — one very rich, who lives far away, and another, not rich, living and working at home — and to a hundred of small peasants owning a few acres each. Besides these, there live on that place some scores of people who own no land — mechanics, merchants, and officials.
Now let us suppose that the people of that community, having arrived at the conclusion that the land is common property, decide to dispose of the land according to their new conviction.
What would they do? Take all the land away from those who own it, and give everybody the right to take the land he desires? That could not be done, because there would be several people who would want the same ground, and this would lead to endless quarrels. To form one society and work all things in common would be difficult, because some have carts, wagons, horses and cattle, while others have none, and, besides, some people do not know how to till the soil, or are not strong enough.
To divide all the land in equal parts, according to its value, and allow one part to each is very difficult, and this would, besides, be impracticable, because the lazy and poor would lease their property to the rich for money, and these would soon again be in possession of it all.
The inhabitants of the community, therefore, decide to leave the land in the possession of those who own it, and to order each owner to pay into the common treasury money representing the revenue which had been decided on after appraising the value of the land, not according to the work or the improvements made on it, but to its quality and situation, and this money was to be divided equally among all.
But as it was difficult first to take this money from all those who held the land, and then divide it equally among all the members of the community, and as these members, besides, paid money toward the public needs — schools, fire departments, roads, etc.— and as this money was always needed, they decided to use all the money derived from those who had the use of the land, for public needs.
Having made this arrangement, the members of the community levied the tax for the use of land on the two large owners, and also on the small peasants, but no tax at all was imposed on those who held no land.
This caused the one landowner who lived far away, and who derived little income from his property, to realize that it did not pay to hold on to land thus taxed, and he gave it up. The other large owner gave up part of his land, and kept only that part which produced more than the amount of his tax. Those of the peasants who held small properties, and who had plenty of men, and not enough land, as well as some of those who held no land at all, but who desired to make a living by working the land, took up the land surrendered by its former owners.
After that all the members of the community could live on the land and make a living from it, and all land passed into the hands of or remained with those who loved to work it, and who made it produce the most. The public institutions flourished and the wealth of the community increased, for there was more money than before for public needs; and the most important fact was that this change in the ownership of land took place without any discussions, quarrels, or discord, by the voluntary surrender of the land by those who did not derive any profit from it.
This is the project of Henry George, which, if tried here, would make Russia wealthy and happy, and which is practicable all over the world.