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!
The land question . . . means hunger, thirst, nakedness, notice to
quit, labor spent in vain, the toil of years seized upon, the
breaking up of homes, the miseries, sicknesses, deaths of parents,
children, wives; the despair and wildness which spring up in the
hearts of the poor, when legal force, like a sharp harrow, goes over
the most sensitive and vital right of mankind. All this is contained
in the land question.
— CARDINAL MANNING, Letter to Earl
Grey (1868), Miscellanies, Vol. I.; p. 251
I stumbled across an excerpt from this in The American Cooperator, and when I couldn't find the material in any of George's other books, I went looking for the source, an 1887 book with chapters by 16 authors.
Enjoy! (It prints out as about 9 pages, if you're so inclined)
THE HISTORY, PURPOSE AND
POSSIBILITIES OF LABOR ORGANIZATIONS
IN EUROPE AND AMERICA; GUILDS, TRADES-
UNIONS, AND KNIGHTS OF LABOR; WAGES AND PROFITS;
HOURS OF LABOR; FUNCTIONS OF CAPITAL; CHINESE LABOR:
COMPETITION; ARBITRATION; PROFIT-SHARING AND
CO-OPERATION; PRINCIPLES OF THE KNIGHTS OF
LABOR; MORAL AND EDUCATIONAL AS-
PECTS OF THE LABOR QUESTION.
EDITED BY GEORGE E. McNEILL,
First Deputy of Mass. Bureau of Statistics of Labor; Sec.-Treas. of D. A. 30, Knights of Labor.
ASSOCIATE AUTHORS: TERENCE V. POWDERLY, G. M. W., K. of L.; DR. EDMUND J. JAMES, University of Pennsylvania; HON. JOHN J. O'NEILL, of Missouri;
HON. J. M. FARQUHAR, of New York; HON. ROBERT HOWARD, of Massachusetts; HENRY GEORGE, of New York;
ADOLPH STRASSER, Pres. Cigar Makers' Union; JOHN JARRETT, of
Pennsylvania; REV. R. HEBER NEWTON, of New York; F K. FOSTER, of
Massachusetts; P. M. ARTHUR, Chief Engineer Locomotive Brotherhood; W.
W. STONE and W. W. MORROW, of California; FRANKLIN H. GIDDINGS,
"Springfield Union"; JOHN McBRIDE, Secretary Coal Miners' Union;
D.J.O'DONOGHUE, of Toronto, Canada; P. J. McGUIRE, Secretary Carpenters'
NEW YORK: THE M. W. HAZEN CO.
Copyright 1886, by
A M. BRIDGMAN & CO.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE LAND QUESTION.
MAGNITUDE OF THE QUESTION — FIRST PRINCIPLES — THE
LAND-OWNER THE ABSOLUTE MASTER OF MEN WHO MUST LIVE ON HIS LAND — THE
ORDER OF NATURE INVERTED — EQUAL RIGHTS TO THE USE OF THE EARTH —
SELFISHNESS, THE EVIL GENIUS OF MAN — THE IRISH PEOPLE FORCED TO BEG
PERMISSION TO TILL THE SOIL — APPROPRIATION OF THE CHURCH-LANDS — LAND
IN ITSELF HAS NO VALUE — THE GREAT CAUSE OF THE UNEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF
WEALTH — NO HOPE FOR THE LABORER, SO LONG AS PRIVATE PROPERTY IN LAND
EXISTS — NOTHING MYSTERIOUS ABOUT THE LABOR QUESTION — THE DIFFICULTY IN
FINDING EMPLOYMENT — NATURE OFFERS FREELY TO LABOR — NATURAL MEANS OF
EMPLOYMENT MONOPOLIZED — SPECULATION IN THE BOUNTIES OF NATURE.
BENEATH all the great social questions of our time lies one of primary
and universal importance, the question of the rights of men to the use
of the earth.
The magnitude of the pecuniary interests involved, the fact that the
influential classes in all communities where private property in land
exists are interested in its maintenance, lead to a disposition to
ignore or belittle the land question: but it is impossible to give any
satisfactory explanation of the most important social phenomena without
reference to it; and the growing unrest of the masses of all civilized
countries, under conditions which they feel to be galling and unjust,
must at length lead them, as the only way of securing the rights of
labor, to turn to the land question.
To see that the land question does involve the problem of the equitable
distribution of wealth; that it lies at the root of all the vexed social
questions of our time, and is, indeed, but another name for the great
labor question in all its phases, it is only needful to revert to first
principles, and to consider the relations between men and the planet
We find ourselves on the surface of a sphere, circling through
immeasurable space. Beneath our feet, the diameter of the planet extends
for eight thousand miles; above our heads night reveals countless
points of light, which science tells us are suns, that blaze billions of
miles away. In this inconceivably vast universe, we are confined to the
surface of our sphere, as the mariner in mid-ocean is confined to the
deck of his ship. We are limited to that line where the exterior of the
planet meets the atmospheric envelope that surrounds it. We may look
beyond, but cannot pass. We are not denizens of one element, like the
fish; but while our bodies must be upheld by one element, they must be
laved in another. We live on the earth, and in the air. In the search
for minerals men are able to descend for a few thousand feet into the
earth's crust, provided communication with the surface be kept open, and
air thus supplied; and in balloons men have ascended to like distances
above the surface; but on a globe of thirty-five feet diameter, this
range would be represented by the thickness of a sheet of paper. And
though it is thus possible for man to ascend for a few thousand feet
above the surface, or to descend for a few thousand feet below it, it is
only on the surface of the earth that he can habitually live and supply
his wants; nor can he do this on all parts of the surface of the globe,
but only on that smaller part, which we call land, as distinguished
from the water, while considerable parts even of the land are
uninhabitable by him.
By constructing vessels of materials obtained from land, and
provisioning them with the produce of land, it is true that man is able
to traverse the fluid-surface of the globe; yet he is none the less
dependent upon land. If the land of the globe were again to be
submerged, human life could not long be maintained on the best-appointed
Man, in short, is a land-animal. Physically considered, he is as much a
product of land as is the tree. His body, composed of materials drawn
from land, can only be maintained by nutriment furnished by land; and
all the processes by which he secures food, clothing and shelter consist
but in the working up of land or the products of land. Labor is
possible only on condition of access to land, and all human production
is but the union of land and labor, the transportation or transformation
of previously existing matter into places or forms suited to the
satisfaction of man's needs.
Land, being thus indispensable to man, the most important of social
adjustments is that which fixes the relations between men with regard to
that element. Where all are accorded equal rights to the use of the
earth, no one needs ask another to give him employment, and no one can
stand in fear of being deprived of the opportunity to make, a living. In
such a community, there could be no "labor question." There could be
neither degrading poverty nor demoralizing wealth. And the personal
independence arising from such a condition of equality, in respect to
the ability to get a living, must give character to all social and
On the other hand, inequality of privilege in the use of the earth must
beget inequality of wealth and power, must divide men into those who can
command and those who are forced to serve. The rewards which nature
yields to labor no longer go to the laborers in proportion to industry
and skill; but a privileged class are enabled to live without labor by
compelling a disinherited class to give up some part of their earnings
for permission to live and work. Thus the order of nature is inverted,
those who do no work become rich, and "workingman" becomes synonymous,
with "poor man." Material progress tends to monstrous wealth on one
side, and abject poverty on the other; and society is differentiated
into masters and servants, rulers and ruled.
If one man were permitted to claim the land of the world as his
individual property, he would be the absolute master of all humanity.
All the rest of mankind could live only by his permission, and under
such conditions as he chose to prescribe. So, if one man be permitted to
treat as his own the land of any country, he becomes the absolute
sovereign of its people. Or, if the land of a country be made the
property of a class, a ruling aristocracy is created, who soon begin to
regard themselves, and to be regarded, as of nobler blood and superior
rights. That "God will think twice before he damns people of quality,"
is the natural feeling of those who are taught to believe that the land
on which all must live is legitimately their private property.
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.
Any settlement of the land of a country that would exclude the
humblest man in that country from his share of the common
inheritance would be not only an injustice and a wrong to that man,
but moreover would be an impious resistance to the benevolent
intentions of the Creator.
"But how is it that you allow these chiefs — landlords, don't you call them? — to taboo the
soil, and prevent you all from even walking on it? Don't you see
that if you choose to combine in a body, and insist upon the
recognition of your natural rights — if you determined to make the landlords give up
their taboo, and cease from injustice, they'd have to yield to you?
And then you could exercise your natural right of going where you
pleased, and cultivate the land in common for the public benefit,
instead of leaving it as now, to be cultivated anyhow, or turned
into waste, for the benefit of the tabooers?"
— GRANT ALLEN, The British
Barbarians (Words spoken by Bertram).
No man should be allowed to own any land that he does not use. Every body knows that — I do not care whether he has thousands or millions. I have owned a great deal of land, but I know just as well as I know I am living that I should not be allowed to have it unless I use it. And why? Don’t you know that if people could bottle the air they would? Don’t you know that there would be an American air bottling association? And don’t you know that they would allow thousands and millions to die for want of breath if they could not pay for air. I am not blaming any body. I am just telling how it is. Now, the land belongs to the children of nature. Nature invites every babe that is born into this world. And what would you think of me, for instance, tonight, if I had invited you here — nobody had charged you anything. but you had been invited — and when you got here you had found one man pretending to occupy a hundred seats, another fifty, and another seventy-five, and thereupon you were compelled to stand up — what would you think of the invitation?
The essential principle of property being to assure to all persons what they have produced by their labor and accumulated by their abstinence, this principle cannot apply to what is not the product of labor, the raw material of the earth.
— JOHN STUART MILL, Political Economy, Book II., Chap. 2, Sec. 5.
When the "sacredness of property" is talked of, it should always be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.
— JOHN STUART MILL, Political Economy, Book II., Chap. 2, Sec. 6.
I came across a nice description of Henry George's book "Social Problems" and thought it worth sharing here:
This work of Henry George is one of the best to give to someone who has no knowledge whatever of the Georgist philosophy. It consists of 22 essays written in George's down-to-earth language and deals with problems which exist in all generations such as "The Rights of Man," "Public Debts and Indirect Taxation," "The Functions of Government," and "The Increasing Importance of Social Questions."
He tells in such simple and direct language "What We Must Do" about the land problem that it should arouse interest on the part of one knowing nothing of the land question to find out more about it and hopefully become involved in our work.
You can find these chapters online here, with a list of some of the themes in each one.
This sermon identifies a/the source of something I posted a few days ago. It also fits in well with the "Earth for All" Calendar.
Man and Mother Earth Albert H. Jenkins [A sermon delivered at the Davies Memorial Unitarian Church, Washington, D.C., 7 October, 1962. Published by the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation]
When Khrushchev was here several years ago, he repeatedly said that in the United States "capitalism has replaced feudalism." Our newspapers and most of us accepted that statement as a self-evident fact, but I believe Khrushchev was mistaken.
I believe feudalism persists here in the midst of capitalism, and from this, I believe there flows a moral and economic wrong so enormous and fundamental that it is poisoning our human relations and destroying our civilization as it has destroyed other great civilizations in the past.
Of course, we do not have the outward and visible signs of ancient feudalism -- publicly recognized categories of kings, nobles and serfs. But though feudalism was a social system, it was basically an economic system also. It was the power of some men to command the labor of others through the ownership of land -- the Mother Earth of us all.
Does that power still exist today, right here in our own country as well as in others? If so, to what extent and with what results? Before we attempt to answer these questions, let us be good scientists and get our definitions straight. Let us get our mental feet on the ground and start from there.
For that purpose, we have the simple visual aids you see before you. The first is a global map of the earth. It represents what the economists call LAND.
That term includes not only the earth's surface, which is what most people think of as land, but also all of Mother Earth's other natural resources -- oil, natural gas, ores and minerals, water, and even the air we breathe. Everything on which and from which man lives and without which he cannot live, is LAND.
You will recognize the second visual aid as Rodin's "Thinker." However, I had our cartoonist put a suit of blue overalls on him. That is because he represents man as a worker of hand or of brain, or both. In short, he is what economists call LABOR.
LABOR, working on land - the surface of the earth and its natural resources - produces what is called CAPITAL. This term is represented by the railroad locomotive in the third visual aid.
CAPITAL, in the economic and real sense, is not money, nor stocks, nor bonds. It is factories, machines, railroads, trucks, ships -- anything which, after it has been produced from land, is used for further production, transportation or distribution of either capital goods or consumer goods.
Of this economic triumvirate -- land, labor and capital -- the most fundamental is LAND, because it is the source of everything else. Yet, nowadays, the land factor is almost forgotten in our economic controversies. That is understandable for several reasons.
First, in our complicated civilization, most of us are out of touch with land. It is buried under buildings and pavements in our cities. And everything we buy from outside our cities comes to us so many steps removed from the land that we seldom think of the source -- our Mother Earth.
Second, the most continuous and conspicuous economic controversies today are between labor and what labor thinks of as "capital" --the owners and managers of industry and business. Workers are in direct contact with employers in their daily lives, and winning wage raises and fringe benefits is the "bread and butter" of labor leaders.
Likewise, employers are constantly pressed by "labor problems," which concern them obviously and directly.
So it is natural that workers and employers seldom stop to think that the economic share they are quarreling about is what is left after landowners and land speculators have taken their portion, which comes first because they control the source of all things, and labor and capital can produce only by buying their permission to use the land.
That brings us to our fourth and last visual aid, this sketch. The water pouring into the bucket represents the hard-earned fruits of labor and capital working together in all stages of production. The water going out through the hole in the side of the bucket represents the unearned tribute taken by the modern feudal landlords. They get their share first. What is left in the bottom of the bucket is what labor and capital must divide between them. They quarrel over it, not realizing that both are being robbed by a third party who contributes nothing to production. Obviously, when someone gets something for nothing, someone else gets nothing for something.
Now, as our next step toward answering the question whether feudalism persists in the midst of capitalism, note this well, for it is the first of two key points:
No man created the land -- the earth. It was here millions of years before any man lived. Therefore, no man has a moral or an economic right to say to others: "Pay me for the privilege of living on the earth and using its natural resources."
The second key point is this: No man creates the money value of the land he owns. That value is created by the needs and deeds of all the people in the community and the nation, in both their private and their public capacities.
As more people are born in or move into a community, the price of the land in and around that community goes up because more people need it to live on, to buy for houses, factories, shops and other purposes. The community itself must establish streets, schools, parks, etc.
Federal and local tax money spent to put up a school, a post office, a government defense plant, or to establish or maintain a police or fire department, boosts the value of all nearby land. The man who spends his money to build a house raises the price of the vacant lot next to it. Landowners and speculators reap an unearned and increasing harvest from these activities.
In effect, they command the labor of other men through their ownership of land, and that is the essence of economic feudalism. The same is true of men who charge other men ever-increasing prices for using the oil, gas, minerals and other natural resources which, by moral and economic right, over and above the cost of extraction, should be the free gifts of Mother Earth.
Now let us bring this down to your own experience. Many of you own a house. You remember its price. Suppose it was $15,000. Little more than a decade ago, in 1950, the price of the lot averaged about 10% of the total cost of the new home. Now the lot cost has doubled to 20%, and is still rising.
At the 20% figure, the buyer of a $15,000 house pays $3,000 for the bare land on which it was built. How long does it take you to earn $3,000, or to save it out of your earnings? For that length of time, if you were that home buyer, you were the feudal serf of the man who sold you the land on which your house was built. In return for your $3,000, he gave you nothing but his permission to use land which he did not create, and the money value of which he did not create. He commanded, and if you have not yet paid off the mortgage, is still commanding, your labor for the time it takes your hard-earned savings to add up to $3,000.
And that's not all. That $3,000 was added to your mortgage. If it's a long-term mortgage, the interest you will have to pay will about double the final land cost to you. Therefore, as a result of the persistence of economic feudalism in this country, the former landowner and the mortgage moneylender are commanding your labor for as many months as it takes you to earn and save $6,000, If you live in a house as a renter, you pay the land cost, too.
Here's another example, from my own experience. In 1926 the railroad labor newspaper I work for bought a piece of land on Capitol Hill, right across Independence Avenue from the House end of the Congress building. That was an absolutely unique location having many advantages, but this land cost us only $24,000.
About 30 years later, Congress ousted us in order to put up the third House Office Building. We looked around for a site for our new building, and were offered a piece of land below Capita! Hill, across from the Capitol Plaza, and comparatively distant from the center of things and from the Senate and House office buildings.
That location is not unique in the way that our original one was and is far inferior in all respects. But the price asked was $1.5 million. That was too much for us, but later this same land was bought by the Carpenters' Union and we may suppose that they paid at least what was asked of us.
That huge sum will come out of the dues paid by the union's members. Land costs always come out of someone.
For our new building we finally bought a plot at the corner of First and D Streets, Northwest, still more distant from Congress and still more inferior to our original land, and very little larger. Yet the price was nearly $400,000.
The difference between that price and the $24,000 we paid 30 years before has to be made up by raising the price of our paper to its subscribers.
Now let us look at an example which concerns everyone of us in this room this morning. You know how hard we are trying to pay off the mortgage on the site we are buying for our church. A few years ago we would have faced no such obstacle because the price of suitable land would have been only a few hundred dollars. Ye we had to pay $16,000 for it and were lucky to get it at that.
Why? Because the owners and speculators in land for mile around Washington are holding it for unearned profits and in that way are creating an artificial scarcity of available land. They know that the population of this area is growing and that the need for land for useful purpose is increasing. So, the longer they hold out, the higher will be the prices and profits they hope to get.
What can, and what should be done to end this deadly hang-over of economic feudalism? Most liberals and labor spokesmen, unfortunately, offer no real remedy, only temporary palliatives which make the patient worse in the long run.
What they propose, and often get, are public subsidies and government guarantees to give the economic system a "shot in the arm" when it is being slowed down by rising land costs. Such artificial stimulation boosts land prices still higher, requires ever-increasing doses, and merely postpones the day of reckoning.
The government housing programs, particularly those for slum clearance and urban redevelopment, are good examples of how land profiteers are subsidized with public money supplied by the taxpayers who will take the losses if land speculators and mortgage-moneylenders run wild and cause a crash.
As a matter of fact, more and more urban redevelopment projects are being promoted by smart real estate operators. A public body buys the land at a high price, pays the heavy expense of clearing off the old buildings, then sells the land to a private developer at a fraction of the price the public body paid for it.
There just isn't enough public money to go very far in that kind of program, and slums are spreading faster than they are being cleared. Such a system has not worked and will not work.
Right here in Washington, the Washington Post recently reported that "Nathan Bernstein and his wife became the first individuals to get a piece of the vast southwest redevelopment project." They bought about three-fifths of an acre for $139,000. That's at the rate of more than $230,000 an acre, or $5 a square foot. And, since the report describes Bernstein as a small businessman, it seems obvious he got some of the least costly land in competition with wealthy real estate corporations.
Such huge land costs have two results, among others.
First, even with the public subsidies, apartments built by private redevelopers must, and do, rent for far more than can be paid by the low-income families for whom they are supposedly provided. In Washington's southwest redevelopment area, which is in this category, rents are reported to be as high as $300 a month.
Second, the comparatively low rents in publicly-built and publicly-owned housing require not only public subsidies for buying and clearing high-priced land, but also a continuation of these subsidies to keep the rents within reach of low- or even middle-income families.
Something different -- a real, fundamental remedy -- is needed. What can it be? Let us approach an answer in this way:
Slum property yields its owners profits of between 20 and 25% -- far more than any other kind of stable investment. That is largely because the more the buildings deteriorate, the lower their value is assessed, and the lower the taxes will be. Thus, the owner is rewarded for being a "slumlord" more ruthless than ancient feudal landlords.
But suppose this slumowner spends some of his money to convert his wretched old buildings into decent dwellings, or tears them down and puts up new ones? Either way he has not only increased the supply of good housing but he has also provided employment for workers in the building trades and in industries which fabricate and transport materials for construction. He has benefited manufacturers, merchants, architects, engineers and other professional men, as well as the economy in general.
Instead of being rewarded, however, this owner who redeveloped his slum property is penalized. The assessor comes around and boosts his valuation and from then on he must pay an annual fine in the form of increased taxes. In effect, he is treated as though he had committed a crime.
This tax system is upside down, according to a school of economic and moral thought fostered by the teachings of Henry George, an American, who long ago wrote a book entitled Progress and Poverty. It aroused controversy in its time, but has produced practical results in some parts of the world, and its teachings are now having a revival in our own country.
Those who agree with Henry George maintain that the man who should be encouraged and rewarded is not the one who lets his slum property run down, but the one who does a favor for everyone by improving his old buildings or tearing them down and putting up better ones.
How would this be done? By taxing the land under the buildings at its true economic value, which is usually much higher than the assessed value, and taking taxes entirely off the buildings or other improvements.
At first that may seem to be a startling thought, perhaps even an unjust one. But remember this, there is a fundamental difference morally and economically between land and buildings. No owner created his land, and its money value was created by the whole community. Is it unjust then for the creators of that value -- the people of the community -- to get the annual return on it in the form of taxes?
In contrast, buildings and all other improvements are man-made. They would not exist unless individuals had invested money and labor in them. When the community taxes them, it is taking something the community did not create.
The purpose of the tax system which Henry George advocated goes far beyond clearing slums by reversing the impact of local and state taxes. Its purpose is no less than to end persistent economic feudalism and its attendant evils. It proposes to do that by making it unprofitable to hold land out of use, or to use it inadequately while waiting for increasing population and public need to boost its selling price.
If landowners and speculators had to pay more taxes on their land, they would sell much more cheaply to people who need land for use. Thus taxes on land values tend to reduce land prices and the cost of living. In that respect, land values are unique. All other kinds of taxes in whole or in part operate to raise prices and living costs.
There is an old and true saying that "the power to tax is the power to destroy." Every dollar of tax destroys something for better or for worse. The question is what do you want to destroy -- the productive activities of labor and capital, or the feudalistic obstruction of men who command the labor of others through landownership and speculative profits?
Federal taxes as well as local taxes are full of favors for landowners and land speculators. Here is just one example:
Earned income pays federal tax rates ranging from 20 to 91%. Unearned profits from land pay only the capital gains tax, which ranges up to 25% at the most. What is more, Uncle Sam gives back to the landowner much of the local real estate taxes he has paid, because such taxes are deductible from taxable income. Thus a wealthy land speculator in the 50% tax bracket, in effect, deducts half his real estate tax from his federal income tax.
More and more people are awakening to the problem of economic feudalism and are seeking its remedy. I only wish I could say that the liberals and the laborites of our country were leading the search.
House & Home, a monthly magazine covering all phases of the home-building industry, is a Luce publication, and as such would generally be considered conservative. But on the land and tax question, House & Home is "radical" in the old American sense of that word, meaning that it goes to the root of things, seeks out and tries to remedy causes.
The Reader's Digest, scarcely a liberal magazine, recently published an excellent boil-down of the House & Home material under the title "Land Speculation and How to Stop It."
Feudal lords, big and little, are exacting more and more billions of tribute from the rest of the people. This will get worse as the population explosion puts heavier and heavier pressure on the land and other natural resources.
Warnings of this came long ago from the classical economists. One of them, David Ricardo, put it this way:
Advancing wealth and productivity bring more people, but they do not bring more land. As a result, those who own the land can command an ever greater return for an increasingly scarce resource. Meanwhile, capital and labor conflict with each other for the rest of the product, and get smaller and smaller shares while the landowners get more and more.
Therefore, Ricardo said, "the natural price of labor is that price which is necessary to enable the laborers … to subsist and perpetuate their race." This came to be known as his "iron law of wages."
Ricardo and other classical economists correctly foresaw that in times and places of rapid economic growth and relative scarcity of workers, wages could rise temporarily. But now the population explosion is on full blast and the industrial revolution, instead of creating more jobs, as it formerly did. is resulting in millions of workers who cannot find jobs even at Ricardo's "subsistence wage."
This economic insecurity will continue and grow worse until the land and tax question is answered, and answered right, for it is the inevitable result of the economic feudalism which has cursed mankind throughout the ages and lingers on in our own country.
Things move fast nowadays, and the time is growing short. Dare we delay too long in solving the biggest and most fundamental of our economic and moral problems -- the problem of Man and his Mother Earth?
The last two or three years have brought forth a flood of literature on the question of immigration. Very little attempt has been made to discover fundamental principles; restrictive nostrums have been freely recommended, each writer appearing to believe that the millennium only awaited the adoption of his panacea. It has seemed to me that these discussions have overlooked or ignored the very first and most vital principle. That principle is involved in the question, "Have men a right to migrate?" Is the right to move about from place to place on the surface of the earth a natural right that belongs to all men equally, or is it a privilege with which nature has endowed a few favored ones, leaving it to them to grant or withhold?
The mere statement of this question brings out its own answer. Whatever degree of freedom may justly be claimed for one must necessarily be conceded to all. There can be no freedom greater than equal freedom. Whatever right I claim for myself, that must I concede to my brother. Have you, my reader, a right to change your habitation from St. Paul to California? Most certainly. Then that same right you must accord to every other one of your fellow-men. Have you a right to expatriate yourself and become a citizen of England, China or Afghanistan? With equal emphasis you reply, "Of course I have." Then you must accord that right to every other person on earth. All rights must be equal. In short, each person must be free to choose for himself his place of abode; and so long as he encroacheth not on the equal freedom of his fellows, no one may deny him.
The favorite reply of the restrictionist is somewhat as follows: "Of course no one man may justly deny his fellows their equal right with himself to migrate from place to place; but all the people, through the regular channel of legislation, may make regulations and restrictions." If this is true, then the principle of equal freedom is a fallacy, and that part of our Declaration of Independence which asserts that all governments derive every just power from the consent of the governed is nothing but an iridescent dream.
No, the immortal Declaration is right. Governments can have no powers except such as rest originally and equally in each individual citizen. Consider, what is a just government? Simply an agent of the people, chosen by the people, to do certain things for the people. What are these things that the people may delegate to their ag«nt, the government? Only such things as each citizen would have a right to do for himself in the absence of government; and of these only such things as the citizens choose to delegate. You can't delegate to your agent a power you don't possess. Your right to interfere with other people's migrations is just nothing. No other citizen has any more right than you. Sixty-five million times nothing equals nothing. A creature can never have rights its creator does not possess; so governments can never possess powers which do not inhere in each individual citizen before they come together to create their government.
I am aware that there are certain classes of socialists who claim that the powers of governments are limited only by the will of the majority; but such claims rest upon investigations so shallow, and are so plainly at variance with the principles of equal freedom upon which our democratic republic is founded, that they should be regarded as cuiiosities instead of being seriously considered.
It is also claimed that, because the members of a family may justly resent encroachments on the sacred precincts of the home, therefore the people of any country may with equal justice drive away peaceable immigrants. The cases are not parallel. The peaceable immigrant enters no man's home unbidden. He simply comes here to make a home of his own, in his own way, and this he has the same right to do as had the Pilgrim fathers who planted their habitations on Plymouth Rock. The only limitation that may justly be applied to the peaceable immigrant, is the same that applies to every other citizen — simply this: he must not encroach upon the equal freedom of his fellows.
True, our Congress attempts to enact laws to prevent people from coming to this country; but all such laws are simply tyrannical usurpations of power, without the slightest shadow of right behind them. Public sentiment may sustain them, just as it sustained the superstition of the divine right of kings to rule and rob the people; just as it sustained for centuries the laws for the burning of heretics; just as it sustains today all sorts of laws that interfere with the divine right of every man to free thought, free speech, free labor, free land and free trade; but in the very nature of things all such laws are void for want of authority — void because there is no power on earth that has any right, or ever can have any right, to enact them.
II. BENEFITS OF IMMIGRATION.
Having shown that no people can possibly have the right to prevent peaceable immigration, I now desire to show that the coming of others not only does no harm to those already here, but really benefits them.
Imagine yourself alone on an island; or, if you please, alone on a world. How poor, how weak, how insignificant you are! You must supply for yourself all your own wants. You must plow and sow and reap and thresh and grind and bake, before you can eat bread. Your clothing, in every part and in every detail, must be of your own make. Whatever shelter you have, you alone must construct. You have no one to aid you, no one with whom to divide the cares and the joys of life! How gladly would you welcome the distant sail; with what heart-throbs of hope would you watch its nearing; with what ecstasy of delight would you note the fact that an immigrant was coming! Even one would make you glad, but many would bring greater gladness. And how doubly joyous would you consider it, if, among the many strangers coming, you could but note the happy smile of some sweet maid of your former acquaintance!
Attempt to restrict immigration! No, 'twould be the last thought to rise within you. Think of the blessings those immigrants would bring. Now the subdivision of labor is possible. Now each can devote his energy to the production of such things as he knows most about, and then exchange with all the others. Now the joys of home and fireside cast about you their holy influences, and soon the patter of little feet reminds you that immigrants from out the great unknown are doubly blest in coming.
Stop immigration? Never! Each one of the ten or one hundred now occupying the island can enjoy many times more of the comforts and blessings of life than before they came together to cooperate among themselves. How anxious you all would be to open up communication with the outside world, that you might exchange the surplus products of your labor with men beyond the sea, and thus get such comforts and luxuries of life as on your own little island you could not produce. With what scorn and contempt would you look upon the person who should seriously suggest that you ought to build a row of custom houses around your island and fill them with politicians whose duty it should be to protect you from the evil effects of swapping goods when you wanted to!
Isn't it always true that ten men working together can produce far more than ten times as much as any one of them working alone? So, also, a thousand, under conditions of freedom, can produce far more than a thousand times as much as one. This principle is universal. The greater the number of the people, the more completely the labor is divided, each doing the work he knows best — provided only they are left free to exchange their surplus products — the greater the wealth of each and the more each can have to enjoy.
Some one may here suggest that if all were permitted to come freely, the island might get too full of people. Nonsense — before the island got too full the people would stop coming.
III. WHY RESTRICTION SEEMS NECESSARY.
Why, then, does restriction of immigration seem necessary? Why does the incoming of our cousins from over the water seem to do harm? Why does it in reality intensify the competition among the workmen, and make immigration seem a curse when in reality it ought to be a blessing?
These questions can all be answered in one word — monopoly. All the good things for which men labor and strive and think and plan, must of necessity be brought forth from the earth by the exertion of man. In the language of political economy, "Labor produces all wealth." But labor can produce not one single particle of wealth unless it can have land to work upon. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the houses that shelter us, even our very bodies — all are derived from the earth; all are the result of labor applied to land. Without the earth to use, human life is impossible.
What sort of a welcome does the immigrant receive who comes to this boasted "land of the free," seeking a place where he can use his energy and skill for the betterment of himself and all those who were here before him? Is he permitted to use the earth to satisfy his needs? Yes, if he can pay the price monopoly has placed upon land. May he not travel from place to place in search of cheaper land, or that he may find an employer to hire him? Yes, if he can pay the price that law-favored highway monopolists charge for a ride. Can't he go afoot and thus escape excessive transportation charges? No, he will be arrested as a tramp and put in jail, his only consolation being that some of those who helped make the laws that caused him to become a tramp will have to pay taxes to support him while he is there. Suppose he can pay the price demanded for transportation and for land, is he allowed to keep and enjoy the products of his labor, that he may thus become a good and self-reliant citizen? No, the tax gatherer is bound by law to fine him for every good thing he does, in order that some land speculator may the more readily blackmail his fellow-men.
Suppose, by hard work, he overcomes all these unnatural obstacles that stupid laws have put in his way, and has a surplus of wheat or other product, is he permitted to exchange that surplus in order to get the things he needs for the maintenance and comfort of himself and family? Yes, but oh condition; if he exchange with his brothers who live outside the imaginary line that separates this "great free country" from the rest of the world, then he must give up from one fourth to three fourths of all he gets to a legalized robber called a customs collector before he may go home with the remainder. Or if he choose to exchange with some one on this side the line, he must pay the monopoly price that our tariff was designed to enable the home producer to extort. Suppose he submits to all these robberies and finally gets home with the fragment that remains, is he let alone to enjoy it in peace? Oh, no; the tax assessor comes around and fines him every year for having it.
What a "grand and glorious free country" this of ours is, to be sure! Is it any wonder that immigrants coming here compete with "our own laborers" for a chance to work? How could they do otherwise, when we shut away the earth from them and compel them to beg employment of the favored few upon whom our system confers the privilege of owning the planet on which we live!
This is just as true of those immigrants who come through the natural channel of birth, as of those who come from distant lands in ships; and to restrict or keep out one class is no more logical or just than to pass laws to prevent the coming of the other.
Why, then, do the citizens of foreign lands come here, and why do so many of them come in spite of all these evils that await them? Simply because they are compelled to suffer more evils where they are. But the tyranny of old world despotisms is no excuse for ours. Because in one country a man is robbed of 90% of all he produces is no reason why in another he should thank God for the robbers who take only 75.
Thus it appears that the problem of immigration does not stand alone. Freedom of migration is as clearly the right, of every human being as is freedom to breathe the air. Monopoly alone is the cause of the evil.
IV. THE REMEDY.
What, then, is the remedy? Again the answer comes clear and plain: Abolish monopoly and restore freedom. These evils have been brought about by laws that restrict and interfere with the rights of man. The remedy must come through the repeal of those laws and the restoration to man of his natural right to be free. Not more laws added, but many existing laws repealed, is the kind of legislation we now need. Our watchword must be "More liberty."
We must erase from our statute books all laws that tax men in proportion to their industry. No man should be taxed more because he has made a piece of land useful, than another is taxed for holding an equally valuable piece of land idle.
The great iron highways of the country must cease to be the private property of such as the Goulds and the Vanderbilts, the Hills and the Huntingtons. They must be made real free public highways, and all must have equal rights to use them, just as they now use the lakes and rivers, the bays and oceans, the country roads and the city streets.
All existing laws that tend to currency monopoly must be repealed. The money of the country must not be made to favor either state or national banks, nor to give the owners of mines a greater price for their products than they will command in the free markets of the world.
But most important of all and first of all, land monopoly must be destroyed. We must recognize again nature's only title to land — the title that rests upon possession and use; and the value of land — that value which is produced by the presence of population and the evolution of society — the value of land must be taken for public use; not allowed to swell the private fortunes of mere title holders.
Look over this fair America of ours today, and see how few and how scattering are its people. More than all the inhabitants of the United States could live in peace and comfort east of the Alleghany Mountains were it not fo: the curse of land monopoly. Less than half the land even in New York City is really occupied and used. More than half is only partially used or is held idle by speculators who expect to reap large profits from the increase of value which always comes with increase of population.
Why do men hold land idle? For no other reason than to pocket the difference between the yearly value which the public gives and the yearly taxes which the public takes.
How can land monopoly be abolished? By making the yearly taxes which the public takes equal to the yearly value which the public gives. When the public takes what it produces, it won't have to rob individuals of the product of their labor under the pretence of taxation. Adopt the single tax, and the vacant-lot industry is a thing of the past.
All laws that pretend to grant to corporations or individuals any special favors must be abolished.
All men must be restored to their rightful condition of freedom, and then let alone to work out each one his own career, unaided by government bounties or favors, unhindered by repressive or restrictive legislation.
Democratic government is possible only under conditions of equal freedom; and that equal freedom must not be the variety proposed by restrictionists and paternalists, where all are equally oppressed by a governing class, but that broad and genuine freedom, where each person has perfect liberty to do whatsoever best doth please himself, so long as he does not interfere with the equal freedom of his fellows.
All men must have equal rights to be on the earth, to move about on its surface, and to use its materials to satisfy their needs. Each one must be the owner of his own powers and capacities. All that his labor of hand or brain can produce is his own; and he must never be compelled to yield to individual or state any part of the product.
The value of land, which is not in any sense a product of individual labor, properly belongs to the community that has produced it. When this value is put into the public treasury where it may meet all public requirements, taxes on labor will be unnecessary, and can be abolished.
This simple, practical change in our system of taxation on the one hand destroys land monopoly and restores to labor its natural right freely to use the earth; while on the other hand it takes the burden from labor's back and leaves it free from the crushing weight of indirect taxation.
Thus again we reach the same conclusion — that only in freedom for the individual man we shall find the cure for all our social evils; freedom to think, freedom to speak, freedom to act; freedom to use the earth to produce the things that are necessary to life, comfort and happiness; freedom, absolute freedom, to exchange the products of his labor with his fellow-men the wide world over, with never a custom house nor a collector to interfere with his trading; freedom to cooperate with his fellows in all things, and never to know that government exists, except when he pays for the value of the land he uses, or when he attempts to encroach upon the equal freedom of his fellows.
With freedom established and monopoly, especially land monopoly, destroyed, the problem of immigration is solved; its terrors have vanished. The innocent comer from over the sea is no longer an enemy to take our work away and reduce us to a meaner standard of living; but a friend who comes to help us, while we all rise to better conditions and heights of nobler manhood.