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!
I should have thought the question about raising rents had been,
to your own knowledge, enough answered by me. I have in several, if
not in many places, declared the entire system of rent-paying to be
an abomination and wickedness of the foulest kind, and have only
ceased insisting on that fact of late years, because I would not be
counted among the promoters of mob violence. The future, not only of
England, but of Christendom, must issue in abolition of rents, but
whether with confusion or slaughter, or by action of noble and
resolute men in the rising generation of England and her colonies,
remains to be decided. I fear the worst, and that soon.
George Monbiot has an excellent article on tax in the Guardian this morning. At its core is an argument for land value taxation, which he explains has long had powerful support. As he puts it:
In 1909 a dangerous subversive explained the issue thus. “Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains -– and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived … the unearned increment on the land is reaped by the land monopolist in exact proportion, not to the service, but to the disservice done.”
Who was this firebrand? Winston Churchill. As Churchill, Adam Smith and many others have pointed out, those who own the land skim wealth from everyone else, without exertion or enterprise. They “levy a toll upon all other forms of wealth and every form of industry”. A land value tax would recoup this toll.
[W]hat’s wrong with the argument the Terry Leahys and the Bob Diamonds make for their extreme wealth? Look, the line runs, we work bloody hard for it; we’re worth it. And it’s true: unlike previous generations of the ultra-wealthy, many of the modern super-rich work for a living, in running major businesses or in finance (although the Davos guestlist still includes plenty of sheikhs and royals). But that doesn’t mean they truly earn the millions they claim.
Take a look at who’s in the Davos set. Last spring, two American academics, Jon Bakija and Brad Helm, and a US Treasury official, Adam Cole, published the most comprehensive analysis yet of the richest 0.1% earners, based on tax returns. Of these top dogs, nearly two in three were top corporate executives and bankers. And the story in both those professions has not been of brilliant returns to shareholders or vast improvements for society, but of wealth extraction and lobbying politicians, Davos-style. In particular, the tale of modern high-finance is of generating transactions, whether in corporate mergers or sub-prime mortgages and then skimming off some of the cash.
That’s extracting rent in exactly the same way that the property owner does. Economically the logic is the same. This is all unearned income, and we should not be granting it favours which increase the divisions and stresses in society; we should be taxing it.
That means we need land value taxation for sure, but we need progressive income taxation, capital gains tax at the same rate as income tax and enforceable corporation tax too if these rents are to be collected. And then there’s the need for reform of inheritance tax.
I really must get round to writing the Joy of Tax. It is next on my list.
"This is where the debate about workers and shirkers, strivers and skivers should have led. The skivers and shirkers sucking the money out of your pockets are not the recipients of social security demonised by the Daily Mail and the Conservative party, the overwhelming majority of whom are honest claimants. We are being parasitised from above, not below, and the tax system should reflect this."
Although this is a UK-focused story, it has international relevance. As we've noted several times before, Land Value Tax is an essential element of any good tax mix. It's progressive, it doesn't damage productivity, and it curbs the abusive practice of economic rent extraction. The article has a particular opinion:
"It's not really a tax. It's a return to the public of the benefits we have donated to the landlords. When land rises in value, the government and the people deliver a great unearned gift to those who happen to own it."
Here are the opening paragraphs of a recent article about the complexities of Ground Lease contracts. I commend the entire article to your attention. It helps flesh out why and how the entire FIRE sector -- Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (as well as their attorneys) -- is receiving such a large share of the profits produced by the productive sectors of the economy. The owner of land, and the entities which lend on land, and insure the buildings and the revenue flow, all reap significant shares of what the tenants labor to create. Modern sharecropping. And the recipients of the ground rent get to parade as self-made men, people of awesome foresight and wisdom -- and even philanthropists (think Brooke Astor, the Fishers, and others in your own community) when they donate a small share back to a charity! As you read this, think both of Manhattan land and of land in your community's central business district, and along its major roads. (Location, location, location!)
If one wonders why (true) small business struggles, one might consider the complexity and expense of their ground leases, and contrast that with the Georgist alternative: that one's taxes would be simply the current rental value of the land, while the value of the building remains one's private property, not subject to taxation or going pouf! at the end of a ground lease.
The land lord is "supplying" something he didn't create. We ought to ease him out. Land value taxation is the obvious tool for reducing, and -- slowly or not -- eliminating, his "take" on those who do create. Think what it would mean if working people had that spending power, instead of the lords of the land.
All that land rent could be used to fund our community's needs, instead of lining the pockets of a few very "lucky" -- privileged -- duckies. (The analogies to chattel slavery are not a long stretch, once one starts to think about it. We should all own ourselves, and reap the fruits of our own labors.)
A lease is a lease is a lease – or so you may think. Yes, real property leases grant an estate in land to a tenant for a period of time. And yes, the tenant pays for that right of possession. But the action in a lease isn’t in the conveyance provisions; it’s in the contract provisions. Multiply out the rent and other annual monetary obligations by the length of the lease term (in years), and you’ll see that it might be (and often is) a big dollar contract. Even more important, unlike the vast majority of contracts whose obligations are satisfied in days or weeks, a lease contract goes unfulfilled for 50, 75, “99,” and even 500 years. That takes it beyond the life of the parties involved in its creation, and the future brings surprises. Neither Nostradamus nor Jules Verne got everything right.
Why a Ground Lease?
If a tenant has to build its own building (as is often the case), and has all of the burdens of ownership, why would it lease a property knowing that at the end of the lease term it has nothing left to show for its money and efforts? There are a number of common reasons, principal among them is that the owner won’t sell the land and the tenant has no alternative.
Real property often carries a long term unrealized gain, waiting to be taxed upon its sale.
Not every landowner is interested in making further active real property investments. This makes a like kind exchange unappealing.
Ground leasing the same land keeps ownership in the family. At the owner’s death, because of the current estate tax “stepped up basis” arrangement, the built in gain may never be taxed.
The only point where I do not find myself in complete accord (and
that is perhaps more due to your comparative silence than anything
else) is that I attach relatively more importance to the initial
injustice done by the permitted monopoly of raw material in a few
hands. It seems to me that individualism, in order to be just, must
strive hard for an equalisation of original conditions by the
removal of all artificial advantages. The great reservoir of natural
wealth that we sum up as land (including mines, etc.) ought, it
seems to me, to be nationalised before we can say that the
individual is allowed fair play. While he is thwarted in obtaining
his fair share of the raw material, he is being put at a
disadvantage by artificial laws.
—Grant Allen, Letter to Herbert Spencer, 1886, in "Grant Allen, A
Memoir," by Edward Clodd.
In a letter to the President of Congress, July 22, 1782, (Robert)
Morris said that a large part of America was held by great
landowners and that a land tax would have the salutary effect of an
agrarian law without the iniquity.
— PROFESSOR WILLIAM C. SUMNER, The
Financier and the Finances of the American Revolution, Vol. II.,
Chap. 33, p. 251.
Millions of human creatures are housed worse than the cattle and
horses of many a lord or squire. Nearly, a million of the London
poor need re-housing; the medical authority has reported against
141,000 houses as insanitary, in which the poor are huddled
together, in numbers varying from four to twelve and more in a
single room. What delicacy, modesty or self-respect can be expected
in men and women whose bodies are so shamefully packed together?
— CARDINAL VAUGHAN, Inaugural
Address to the Annual Conference of the Catholic Truth Society at
Stockport, published in the St. Vincent de Paul Quarterly, New
York, November, 1892, p 286.
... many Americans are facing the likelihood of not having sufficient income in retirement unless they increase their savings, work longer, or significantly decrease their expenditures in retirement if they hope to make ends meet.
The Employee Benefits Research Institute recently published an analysis of 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances data. It demonstrates how few people have the traditional defined-benefit retirement plans, and the account balances people of various demographics have in their individually-directed retirement accounts.
Here are some statistics worth considering as we think about the effects of a system which permits a few of us to capture a large share of the nation's net worth and a large share of its income, and to unduly influence our elections with advertising which works to conceal and reinforce the structures of that system:
38% of all families -- of all ages -- had a family member with a retirement plan. [Figure 2]
of those 38%, 18% had only a defined benefit plan; 61% had only a defined contribution plan; 21% had both. 82% had a 401(k) type plan, and of that 82%, 22% also had a defined benefit plan
Among those families whose head was 55-64, 43% had a member with a retirement plan; among those 45-54, 53% did.
Interestingly, the top 75% of the net worth spectrum all had rates in the 41% to 46% range; in the bottom 25%, only 21%.
Among families whose head was under 65 and working, 52% had a member participating in a retirement plan [Figure 3].
Among households with income abov e $100,000, 76% had retirement plans; in the $50,000 to $100,000 income range, 64%; in the lower income groups, the rate ranged from 44% down to 9%
In the 55-64 age group, 59% had a retirement plan; in the 45-54 group, 61%.
Within this working-age universe, similar trends held: the top 50% had roughly 61-67% availability of employment-related retirement plans; for the next 25%, only 53%; for the bottom 25% of working families, only 29%.
IRAs and Keogh plans: 28% had one or both; median value, $40,000 (up from $34,574 in 2007). Among those 55-64, 41% had one or both; median value $60,000 (down from $68,101); among those 45-54, 29% had one or both; median value $40,000, up from $37,717. [Figure 5]
Even among those in the top 10% of the net worth spectrum, only 77% had IRA or Keogh accounts, median value $200,,000, up from $142,487 in 2007; in the next 15% of the net worth spectrum, median value was $60,000.
Of all families, 64% had some sort of retirement account from a current or previous employer (down from 66% in 2007)
Retirement assets in Defined Contribution plans and IRAs typically [that is, at the median] represent 61% to 66% of total financial assets, which is to say that most have less in mutual funds, stocks, checking and other accounts than they do in their retirement accounts. [Figure 8]
Only in the top 10% do retirement assets represent less than half of financial assets.
As is typical of median/average ratios, average holdings are considerably higher -- that is, the holdings of the top few are huge, and most of us are below average. The average balance is $173,232; in the top 10% of the net worth spectrum, average balances are $519,034. For the next 15% of us, the average balance is 147,061 -- well below the average of all of us! [Figure 9] Recall from Figure 6 that 64% of us have such a plan; the other 36% have no balance at all (and likely a significant percentage have very small account balances).
For those in the 65-74 age group, the average balance is $324,199; for those in the 55-64 group, the average balance is $297,903.
For those in the top 10%, average account balance is $519,034. One might reasonably guess that the top 5% have the lion's share of this.
It might be worth noting that a 70 year old must withdraw at least 1/27 of his IRA per year. Based on that 65-74 age group average balance, that's $12,000 per year. (Another rule of thumb says that if one only withdraws 3% per year, one's account should last forever. That would be $9,725 per year, for that "average" -- not median -- family in the 65-74 age group.
Enough said. Time to circle back to the study's conclusion:
... many Americans are facing the likelihood of not having sufficient income in retirement unless they increase their savings, work longer, or significantly decrease their expenditures in retirement if they hope to make ends meet.
What public policy reforms might one suggest based on these data points?
Find a way to raise wages for ordinary workers
Find a way to lower the cost of living for ordinary workers and retirees
Find a way to reduce the sum of the taxes we pay and the costs of housing without reducing the public goods which those taxes provide (unless it is by reducing the demand for social safety net
If you have other suggestions, I'd like to hear them.
But the reason for this blog is that I believe I have found the public policy reform which would accomplish these goals, in collecting the lion's share of the annual rental value of our land, and in collecting for the commons certain other kinds of natural public revenue which our current system permits to accrue to individuals and corporations. I didn't invent it. Henry George is the clearest exponent of it, but not the first or last. Is it perfect? No, but it is vastly superior to what we've got now, and I believe it is consistent with the ideals to which Americans pay the most honor.
The game’s true origins, however, go unmentioned in the official literature. Three decades before Darrow’s patent, in 1903, a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie created a proto-Monopoly as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to “own” land. In his book Progress and Poverty (1879), George called private land ownership an “erroneous and destructive principle” and argued that land should be held in common, with members of society acting collectively as “the general landlord.”
Magie called her invention The Landlord’s Game, and when it was released in 1906 it looked remarkably similar to what we know today as Monopoly. It featured a continuous track along each side of a square board; the track was divided into blocks, each marked with the name of a property, its purchase price, and its rental value. The game was played with dice and scrip cash, and players moved pawns around the track. It had railroads and public utilities — the Soakum Lighting System, the Slambang Trolley — and a “luxury tax” of $75. It also had Chance cards with quotes attributed to Thomas Jefferson (“The earth belongs in usufruct to the living”), John Ruskin (“It begins to be asked on many sides how the possessors of the land became possessed of it”), and Andrew Carnegie (“The greatest astonishment of my life was the discovery that the man who does the work is not the man who gets rich”). The game’s most expensive properties to buy, and those most remunerative to own, were New York City’s Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Wall Street. In place of Monopoly’s “Go!” was a box marked “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages.” The Landlord Game’s chief entertainment was the same as in Monopoly: competitors were to be saddled with debt and ultimately reduced to financial ruin, and only one person, the supermonopolist, would stand tall in the end. The players could, however, vote to do something not officially allowed in Monopoly: cooperate. Under this alternative rule set, they would pay land rent not to a property’s title holder but into a common pot—the rent effectively socialized so that, as Magie later wrote, “Prosperity is achieved.”
Readers of this blog know that Lizzie Magie had created her game and started to promote it by the Fall of 1902.
“Monopoly players around the kitchen table”—which is to say, most people—“think the game is all about accumulation,” he said. “You know, making a lot of money. But the real object is to bankrupt your opponents as quickly as possible. To have just enough so that everybody else has nothing.” In this view, Monopoly is not about unleashing creativity and innovation among many competing parties, nor is it about opening markets and expanding trade or creating wealth through hard work and enlightened self-interest, the virtues Adam Smith thought of as the invisible hands that would produce a dynamic and prosperous society. It’s about shutting down the marketplace. All the players have to do is sit on their land and wait for the suckers to roll the dice.
Smith described such monopolist rent-seekers, who in his day were typified by the landed gentry of England, as the great parasites in the capitalist order. They avoided productive labor, innovated nothing, created nothing—the land was already there—and made a great deal of money while bleeding those who had to pay rent. The initial phase of competition in Monopoly, the free-trade phase that happens to be the most exciting part of the game to watch, is really about ending free trade and nixing competition in order to replace it with rent-seeking.
This is a good article, and I commend it in its entirety to your attention. It also provides links to Tom Forsythe's new site, http://landlordsgame.info/, whose graphics show many early versions of the Landlord's Game, which I look forward to exploring. I learned for the first time that the game layout that I had thought was an early one, with a lake in the center, was actually a 1939 version, based on Lizzie Magie's design but published by Parker Brothers. (I ought to have figured that out sooner, since the board includes her married name!)
It is interesting that one of the earlier versions -- 1909 -- was based on Altoona's streets. In the past year, Altoona has shifted to taxing land and not taxing buildings to fund its municipal spending. (This was a gradual shift, accomplished over a number of years; they must have liked the effect!)
Henry George is the most famous American popular economist you've never heard of, a 19th century cross between Michael Lewis, Howard Dean and Ron Paul. Progress and Poverty, George's most important book, sold three million copies and was translated into German, French, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Russian, Hungarian, Hebrew and Mandarin. During his lifetime, George was probably the third best-known American, eclipsed only by Thomas Edison and Mark Twain. He was admired by the foreign luminaries of the age, too -- Leo Tolstoy, Sun-Yat Sen and Albert Einstein, who wrote that "men like Henry George are unfortunately rare. One cannot image a more beautiful combination of intellectual keenness, artistic form and fervent love of justice." George Bernard Shaw described his own thinking about the political economy as a continuation of the ideas of George, whom he had once heard deliver a speech.
Later, she writes,
George found most mysterious about the economic consequences of the
industrial revolution was that its failure to deliver economic
prosperity was not uniform -- instead it had created a winner-take-all
society: "Some get an infinitely better and easier living, but others
find it hard to get a living at all. The 'tramp' comes with the
locomotives, and almshouses and prisons are as surely the marks of
'material progress' as are costly dwellings, rich warehouses and
magnificent churches. Upon streets lighted with gas and patrolled by
uniformed policeman, beggars wait for the passer-by, and in the shadow
of college, and library, and museum, are gathering the more hideous Huns
and fiercer Vandals of whom Macaulay prophesied."
diagnosis was beguilingly simple -- the fruits of innovation weren't
widely shared because they were going to the landlords. This was a very
American indictment of industrial capitalism: at a time when Marx was
responding to Europe's version of progress and poverty with a wholesale
denunciation of private property, George was an enthusiastic supporter
of industry, free trade and a limited role for government. His culprits
were the rentier rich, the landowners who profited hugely from
industrialization and urbanization, but did not contribute to it.
had such tremendous popular appeal because he addressed the obvious
inequity of 19th century American capitalism without disavowing
capitalism itself. George wasn't trying to build a communist utopia. His
campaign promise was to rescue America from the clutches of the robber
barons and to return it to "the democracy of Thomas Jefferson." That
ideal -- as much Tea Party as Occupy Wall Street -- won support not only
among working class voters and their leaders, like Samuel Gompers, but
also resonated with many small businessmen. Robert Ingersoll, a
Republican orator, attorney and intellectual, was a George supporter. He
urged his fellow Republicans to back his man and thereby "show that
their sympathies are not given to bankers, corporations and
I commend the entire post, adapted from Freeland's new book, Plutocrats. It ends with these paragraphs:
today urgently needs a 21st century Henry George -- a thinker who
embraces the wealth-creating power of capitalism, but squarely faces the
inequity of its current manifestation. That kind of thinking is missing
on the right, which is still relying on Reagan-era trickle-down
economics and hopes complaints about income inequality can be silenced
with accusations of class war. But the left isn't doing much better
either, preferring nostalgia for the high-wage, medium-skill
manufacturing jobs of the post-war era and China-bashing to a serious
and original effort to figure out how to make 21st century capitalism
work for the middle class.
and the technology revolution aren't going away -- and thank goodness
for that. Industrialization didn't go away either. But between 1886,
when George lost the mayoral race, and the presidency of FDR, American
progressives invented, fought for and implemented a broad range of new
social and political institutions to make capitalism serve the whole of
society -- ranging from trust-busting, to the income tax, to the welfare
are living in an era of comparably tumultuous economic change. The
great challenge of our time is to devise the new social and political
institutions we need to make the new economy work for everyone. So far,
that is a historic task neither party is taking on with enough energy,
honesty or originality."
Along the same lines, you might find interesting an earlier post here, an article by Thomas Shearman entitled "Henry George's Mistakes." (He was a co-founder of Shearman & Sterling, and went on to write some excellent articles on plutocracy in The Standard, October, 1887.)
His next task, and indeed the most hazardous he ever undertook, was
the making a new division of their lands. For there was an
extreme inequality among them, and their State was overloaded with a
multitude of indigent and necessitous persons, while its whole
wealth had centered upon a very few.
Equity, therefore, does not permit property in land. For if
one portion of the earth's surface may justly become the
possession of an individual and may be held by him for his sole use
and benefit as a thing to which he has an exclusive right, then
other portions of the earth's surface may be so held; and eventually
the whole of the earth's surface may be so held; and our planet may
thus lapse into private hands.
— HERBERT SPENCER, in 1850, Social
Statics, Chap. IX.
I'm reading through the first issues of Henry George's newspaper, "The Standard," a weekly which was published in NYC beginning in January, 1887. It was started shortly after the mayoral race of 1886 (chronicled in Post & Leubuscher's December, 1886 book), and in the 4th issue there is a very explicit article about the role that Rome was attempting to play in NYC politics by removing from the priesthood an activist priest, the much-loved Dr. Edward McGlynn, of St. Stephen's Church, on 28th Street in Manhattan, the largest parish in the city. (This was before the creation of New York City by combining the five boroughs.)
For over 20 years, McGlynn had been living among New York's poor, hearing the confessions of the poor, and knew how hard their lives were. He knew the situation in Ireland which had brought many of them to the U. S., and when he read Henry George's 1879 book, "Progress and Poverty," he found the cause of their suffering, and saw how to correct the underlying cause of poverty.
The article to which I refer is entitled, "From a Brooklyn Priest"
The Body of the
Catholic Clergy Sympathize With Dr. McGlynn
The Brooklyn Times prints an interesting
interview with “a well known parish priest” of that city. His
name is not given "for obvious reasons,” but those acquainted
with the Catholic clerics of Brooklyn have little difficulty in
attributing it to the most popular and influential of the
Catholic clergy of that city. We make the following extracts:
“The sympathy of the body of the Catholic clergy in New
York and Brooklyn is undoubtedly with Dr. McGlynn. I have talked
with a great many of my brother priests of both cities on the
matter, and almost without exception, they have taken Dr.
McGlynn's side in the controversy, though they would be loth to
do so publicly for manifest reasons. The sentiment of the body
of the Catholic clergy of the two cities is that whatever has
been done in Dr. McGlynn's case has been done by inspiration from this side. Of course the question at issue does
not at all touch matters of faith. It is purely a question of
discipline. The authorities at Rome know little or nothing of
the real state of affairs at this side of the Atlantic except as
they are inspired by the archbishop of the different provinces.
Archbishop Corrigan is in daily communication with Rome by
cable, and the views of the controversy between Dr. McGlynn and
his superior that are entertained at Rome pending the personal
appearance of Dr. McGlynn in the Eternal City, are the views of
the archbishop of New York that are telegraphed and written
“I do not mean to imply that Archbishop Corrigan would
willfully misrepresent the situation here, but I do say that Dr.
McGlynn, with all his experience as a priest in the American
metropolis, with all his practical knowledge of the condition of
the poor and of the working classes in that city, is a better
judge of the political needs of the masses in New York than
Archbishop Corrigan is, who has spent the greater part of his
career as an ecclesiastic in the state of New Jersey; and I hold
that Dr. McGlynn and every other Catholic priest has the right
to take an active part in the politics of the country. To say
that a man of the acknowledged piety and the blameless life of
Dr. McGlynn sympathizes with anything that smacks of communism
or anarchy is the veriest nonsense to anyone who knows him — and
who does not know everything about him today? Dr. McGlynn, as a
priest, knows the awful burdens which the laboring classes of
New York city have to bear through political misrule and the
corrupt combination of capital to oppress them. He knows how
anomalous that condition of things is which allows one man to
accumulate a hundred millions of dollars within 25 years and compels another to work for a dollar a day, nay, while
thousands, anxious for work, are starving for the lack of it.
Hence his support of the candidate of the labor party for mayor.
Dr. McGlynn did not believe that anarchy or communism would
follow in the wake of the election of Henry George to the
mayoralty of New York any more than he believed that Mr. George,
as the chief executive of the municipal government across the
East river could put his land theories into practical operation
in the metropolis. Any possible change in the government of New
York city must be a change for the better, so far as the poor
“If the bishops of the dioceses in the United States
were taken by Rome from among the clergy of these dioceses who
thoroughly understand the social and political conditions of
their people, there would be none of these disciplinary
troubles. What sense is there in sending an Italian priest to
Canada or an Irish priest to Guatemala as bishop? Or why should
a bishop be transferred from a city in the state of New Jersey
to preside over the archdiocese of New York when there are many
able and holy priests in the metropolis worthy of election to
the prelacy who have spent their lives among the masses of the
people? In countries where the canonical law of the church is in
practical application the parish priests of a diocese in which
the bishopric becomes vacant send three names to Rome by majority
vote. One is set down as dignus, or worthy, another as dignior,
or more worthy, and a third as dignissimus, or most worthy. Any
one of the three may be selected, and it sometimes happens that
it is the lowest on the list who is chosen. The pope has the
absolute power to go outside the list sent to him from the
diocese in which a vacancy occurs, but it is a power rarely
exercised and only for the most exigent reasons. If the canon
law applied in America, which is only yet a missionary country
and subject to the propaganda at Rome, Dr. McGlynn could not
have been turned out of St. Stephen's church as he has been and
his salary would have run on despite his suspension until his
case was finally decided at Rome.
“It is most unfortunate that the canon law does not
apply in the United States, and that the political, social and
educational situation in this country is not better understood
at Rome. Wealthy Catholic politicians have too much to say on
church policy in this country; and unfortunately that is today
the trouble in New York city. The masses of the Catholic clergy
say, 'Hands off.' As long as bishops, with whom wealthy
politicians are most powerful, practically say who shall be
elected to the prelacy in the United States there will be a
chance for trouble among the laity.
“I am satisfied that if a majority of the Catholic
clergy of the dioceses of New York and Long Island could do it
Dr. McGlynn would have been elected archbishop and Archbishop
Corrigan would have been allowed to remain in New Jersey. I
unhesitatingly say that if the votes of the Catholic clergy in
these two dioceses could do it Dr. McGlynn would be restored to
St. Stephen's parish tomorrow. No old priest of New York city
wanted to succeed Dr. McGlynn in that parish, for they all knew
how his congregation idolized him. I am also free to say that if
Archbishop Corrigan had not been brought from the state of New
Jersey to New York city this trouble would never have occurred.
“Mgr. Preston is the bitterest foe that Dr. McGlynn has
in the diocese of New York. I do not mean to imply that the
monsignor entertains personal animosity toward the ex-rector of
St. Stephen's church, but he is utterly opposed to what Dr.
McGlynn stands for as an American citizen. Mgr. Preston is an
aristocrat and the associate of aristocrats. Even converts to
the Catholic church who know Father Preston well have admitted
that the monsignor dearly loves the privileges which attach to
church dignitaries in Catholic countries, and is inclined to ape
the civil ceremonial of such communities in his intercourse with
his flock. Dr. McGlynn is poor, is of the poor and loves to
associate with the poor. He is in this respect the antithesis
of Mgr. Preston, and the latter is a confidential adviser of
This article, more than anything else I've read, brings home to me the extent to which the rich manage even the Church for the benefit of the rich, to the detriment of the poor. When a priest who seeks to correct the unjust structures is deprived of his priesthood because he might upset the privileges of the rich, the country and the church are both in trouble.
When churches benefit from contributions from wealthy contributors, they will tend to act to enforce the structures which enrich those wealthy contributors, rather than rocking the boat in any way. When economic structures funnel the community's wealth into a relative few pockets, the Church will tend to embrace those pockets, not challenge the structures. Money in elections is not the only corrupting force.
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.
It will be thought an intolerable thing that men shall derive enormous increments of income from the growth of towns to which they have contributed nothing — that they shall be able to sweep into their coffers what they have not produced — that they shall be able to go on throttling towns, as they are well known to do in some cases. It is impossible to suppose that the system will not be vigorously, powerfully, persistently and successfully attacked.
—JOHN MORLEY, Speech at Forfar, October 4, 1897. The Times, October 5, 1897, p. 5, column 3.
This being the case, in what manner are the Irish people to subsist in future? There is the land and there is labor enough to bring it into cultivation. But such is the state in which the land is placed, that capital cannot be employed upon it. You have tied up the raw material in such a manner — you have created such a monopoly of land by your laws and by your mode of dealing with it — as to render it alike a curse to the people and to the owners of it.
— JOHN BRIGHT, Speech in the House of Commons, April 2, 1849. Speeches of John Bright, I., p. 332, (Edition of 1868).
The world will be much happier when land monopoly shall cease, because manual labor will then be so honorable, because so well-nigh universal. It will be happier, too, because the wages system, with all its attendant degradation and unhappy influences, will find but little room in the new and radically changed condition of society.
— GERRIT SMITH, Speeches in the U. S. Congress, (1854), pp. 84-5.
I'm used to associating this phrase with Winston Churchill, circa 1909. But here's an 1891 reference:
There is one great monopoly, and that monopoly is the mother of all other monopolies! You know what I will say! You know that I will say that its name is
PRIVATE OWNERSHIP OF LAND.
It comes in Henry Chase's book, Letters to Farmer's Sons.
I realize that to one who stumbles onto this post, this will seem like a radical statement, perhaps appearing to be diametrically opposed to a strongly-held ideal. If so, and you're willing to explore the topic a bit, you might check out a page over at wealthandwant.com which makes some distinctions
Thousands Sign Petition at a Mass Meeting Held in Union Square
Pastor Flays Legislature
Dr. John Haynes Holmes Says Bosses Have No Right to Stop the Expression of the People's Will
Petitions asking for a referendum vote upon the question of reducing gradually the tax rate upon buildings in New York to one-half the tax rate upon land, through five consecutive reductions in as many years, were signed yesterday by several thousand persons at a mass-meeting held in Union Square under the auspices of the New York Congestion Committee. The meeting was announced as a public protest for lower rents.
Benjamin Clark Marsh, Executive Secretary of the Committee on Congestion of Population in New York, was Chairman. Dr. John Haynes Holmes of the Church of the Messiah said that the Legislature "in the wisdom of the Big Sachem at Fourteenth Street has decreed that the people are not fit to register their judgment as to this bill. I, for one, desire to protest against the boss or set of bosses who presume to forbid the people to express their will on any question."
Frederick Leubuscher, representing the New York State League of Savings and Loan Association, said:
"It was admitted by some of the land speculators at the hearing of the Lower Rents bill at Albany that they were unable to answer our arguments. Nevertheless, a Democratic majority stifled the bill. As a savings and loan association man, I am interested particularly in the enactment of this proposed law. The stimulation of the erection of buildings and the making of improvements generally will be more market in the suburbs, where modest homes, costing from $2,000 to $5,000 to erect, are most in demand."
The purpose of the law was explained in a letter from Assemblyman Michael Schaap, who introduced the Salant-Schaap bill in the lower House of the State Legislature.
"If the tax rate on buildings had been half that on land this year," he wrote, "the rents of the average tenant would have been at least one month's rent less than it was; owners of small houses would have paid $15 to $25 less taxes than they do, and there would be fewer than 9,000 evictions for non-payment of rent.
"The taxes on all adequately improved property would have been reduced and the city would have recovered almost $20,000,000 more of ground rent which now goes to a few people of New York and to absentee landlords. This ground rent at 6% is over $273,000,000. The people of the city have created and maintain these values, but they get less than $84,000,000 of it -- the land owners get the other $189,000,000. Rent and taxes on homes and other buildings would have been reduced by at least $20,000,000."
The Rev. Alexander Irvine said that one family out of every 150 in New York City was evicted for non-payment of rent, because of the unjust taxation of improved property as contrasted with vacant land. Only 3% of the residents of the city own land, the speaker asserted.
John J. Hopper, Chairman of the New York State Independence League, said:
"A tax upon anything tends to lessen the supply of that commodity. By the same principle a tax upon buildings tends to lessen their number. A bill tending to reduce the tax upon buildings will bring about the construction of more buildings, and as a result there will be more competition and a corresponding reduction in rents.
"The Legislature refused to let us decide this question for ourselves, asserting that we did not know enough to vote on the subject of taxation. When we realize that for the expenses of the National Government each one of us pays $7.50 a year; for the state expenses, $5.50 and for the city expenses $38.50, making a total of $51.50 per individual, or $255 for a family of five, then we understand that we must think upon this subject of taxation.
Frederick C. Howe, Director of the People's Institute, said:
"Think of the stupidity of New York citizens. We talk about bankruptcy and lack of city credit and yet we give away each year at least $100,000,000 in the speculative increase of land values which the growth of the community creates. That is, the increase show by the tax valuation of the city. New York could pay a large part of its present budget out of the land speculation profits alone, if it taxed land and exempted buildings."
C. N. Sheehan of the Twenty-eighth Assembly District Board of Trade, Brooklyn, and J. P. Coughlin of the Central Labor Union of Brooklyn also spoke.
The following list comprises the most commonly asked questions about the concept of making land and resource rentals the source of revenue for government. As you continue this study, you will see the value from giving resources the respect they deserve and the benefits resulting from the freeing of labour, production and exchange from taxation. If you have any questions which are not covered here, or observations you would like to put to our panel, please feel free to do so by sending your question as an e-mail query and we will attempt to respond.
The inclusion of land and resources in the economic equation is central to any solution for revenue raising. A taxation solution which does not consider the nature of taxation itself and allows the continuing private monopolisation of community land and resources fails to recognise the essential role land plays in the economic equation and will not work. Land is the only element in the economic equation which is both fixed and finite. It can be monopolised. It is a unique class of asset which must be treated accordingly. If we were to wrest not the land itself, but its unimproved value from private monopolies and return the value to the community — whose very presence creates it — then we would have reduced many problems in one stroke with great benefit to production, to the environment and to the cause of individual freedom and justice.
On the subject of land and resource rents, Henry George said this:
The tax upon land values is the most just and equal of all taxes. It falls 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. When all rent is taken by taxation for the needs of the community, then will the equality ordained by nature be attained.
The man of wealth and pride Takes up a space that many poor supplied — Space for his lake, his park's extended bounds, Space for his horses, equipage and hounds; The robe that wraps his limbs in silken cloth Has robbed the neighboring fields of half their growth; His seat where solitary sports are seen Indignant spurns the cottage from the green; Around the world each needful product flies, For all the luxuries the world supplies, While thus the land adorned for pleasure all In barren splendor feebly waits the fall.
I admit that there are things in which a man can have absolute property, and which without qualification or restriction he can buy or sell or bequeath at his pleasure. But I deny that the soil is among these things.
— GERRIT SMITH, Speech in the U. S. Congress, February 21, 1854,
But the colony multiplies, while the space still continues the same, the common rights, the equal inheritance of mankind, are engrossed by the bold and crafty; each field and forest is circumscribed by the landmarks of a jealous master. . . . In the progress from primitive equity to final injustice the steps are silent, the shades are almost imperceptible, and the absolute monopoly is guarded by positive laws and artificial reason.
— EDWARD GIBBON, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,
Place one hundred men on an island from which there is no escape, and whether you make one of these men the absolute owner of the other ninety-nine, or the absolute owner of the soil of the island, will make no difference either to him or to them.
— HENRY GEORGE, Progress and Poverty, Book VII., Chap. 2, p. 312.
Here is the fundamental error, the crude and monstrous assumption, that the land which God has given to our nation, is or can be the private property of anyone. It is a usurpation exactly similar to that of slavery.
— PROF. F. W. NEWMAN, Lectures on Political Economy (1851), Lecture VI., p. 533.
Here's a piece from a 90 year old journal. There are acres in Manhattan whose value is far higher today -- and the landlords are still reaping what the working people and visitors to New York are sowing.
APPROPRIATING THE GIFTS OF NATURE By Walter Thomas Mills.
There are portions of New York City in which the land is valued at $40,000,000 an acre. That means $8000 each day from each acre for the landlord, and that entirely unearned by him, before there is a penny for any other purpose. Probably not less than two and one-half million dollars a day, or almost a billion dollars a year, must be earned by the people of New York City and turned over to landlords for permission to use the island, which is a gift of nature, and for the advantages that are protected and maintained by the industry and enterprise of all of the people.
In The Great Adventure, April, 1921
Think what NYC -- and America -- would be like if that "permission to use the island" money was treated as our logical public revenue source, instead of as individuals', corporations' and trusts' private revenue source.
Recall the wisdom of Leona Helmsley: "WE don't pay taxes. The little people pay taxes."
Wherever there is in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on.
— THOMAS JEFFERSON (1785), Ford's Writings of Jefferson, Vol. VII., 36.
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'm reading a 1910 book by William Harbutt Dawson entitled "The Unearned Increment." I found these paragraphs particularly compelling. I think about the 2003 Schiller and Case article about the expectations of home buyers that their purchases would rise in value. The homebuyers of the last decade didn't understand why land should rise in value -- indeed, most of them weren't conscious of it being land appreciating, not the houses themselves -- but they seemed sure that it would rise forever, and they thought it essential to their own well-being that they get in on that appreciation.
100 years ago, there seemed to be a much better popular understanding of land economics than we have in 2012. It was widely discussed in quite a number of popular journals read by ordinary people. One might speculate on why we in the 21st century aren't better informed than we are on the subject. In whose interests is it that ordinary people not understand the importance and the dynamics land economics?
And here it will be convenient to refer to the plea often advanced that speculation in land is legitimate, and that there is no difference between making profits from the sale of land and making profits from the sale of ordinary commodities. Those who hold this view forget or ignore the fact that land differs from every product of man's hands in that, besides being a necessity of existence — the maintainer of life, it is a monopoly article. God made the earth as big as it is, and man cannot make it any bigger. There is so much land in the world, and no one, not even a Rothschild or a Vanderbilt, can add an inch to it. Hats, boots, and coats — manufactured goods in general — can be multiplied indefinitely. The supply is only regulated by the demand, and almost invariably the cost decreases as the demand is augmented. With the land it is otherwise: the absolute supply cannot be increased, and the cost grows with the growth of the demand. Moreover, in paying for the goods offered by the manufacturer, we pay largely for labour; but no amount of labour can produce land. It existed before man existed, and is not produced. Landed property is the one commodity of exchange in respect of which civilised society refuses to recognise absolute rights.
It may be granted at once, however, that it is impossible to artificially prevent the value of land from increasing. It would be absurd to try to check the operation of social forces which act from necessity. If there were no private ownership of land, but the State were the custodian and grand lessor, the value of that commodity would inevitably tend to increase owing to a multiplicity of causes which act independently of private and collective possession of the soil. Yet while it may not be possible artificially to prevent value-growth, it is possible and expedient to check artificial value-growth. Were the unearned increment secured wholly or even in part to society, there would be less inducement to speculation in land, and the increase in its value would be dependent upon healthier and socially more desirable causes. Men do not speculate commercially for amusement or the mere love of excitement, but for money, and if there were no prospect — or little prospect — of contingent gain, the great inducement to land speculation would be taken away.
At the idea of resistance to speculation the individualist will raise his hands in alarm and remonstrance. But these pages are written on the assumption that the interests of speculators cannot claim any partial consideration in the adjustment of the important problem under discussion — or, indeed, of any problem affecting the well-being of society. Those who hold the views here expressed would not dream of prohibiting speculation in land; all they say is, that society is not called upon to sacrifice its interests to the speculators, or to offer to the latter any facilities for doing it mischief. It cannot surely be considered a social advantage that a small class of men should be able, owing to their possession of a monopoly in land, to force up its value to fictitious and fabulous heights; nor can it be regarded as desirable that the value of land should be increased in order to allow of speculators enriching themselves. The result is to create extortionate rents, which, so far as trade and industry are concerned, make production dearer, and thus injure the consumer, and, so far as concerns dwellings, compel the householder to disburse an excessive proportion of his income in the mere sheltering of himself and his family within stone walls. Apart from the gains which fall to the intermediary speculator who does not buy land to keep, but to sell, the owners of the soil pocket the public tribute paid in the form of increasing rents. For their part, the house occupiers suffer in two ways by the growing value of land: they must pay more for the dwellings they live in, and more for the articles they use and consume. It cannot be to the interest of society that the rents of town dwellings should average, say, £20 instead of £15, and should increase 5% or even 2% every year. If such an increase fell to the whole community, the evil would not be so great, for those who paid it would in one way or another reap the benefit; but, as matters are, it all goes into the landlords' purse.
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.