|Wealth and Want
|... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
The People's LandWinston Churchill published in book form (to be sold in two versions, 1 shilling and 2 shillings) under the title The People's Rights a distillation of a series of speeches he had delivered in eight or nine towns in Lancashire in December, 1909, in the runup to the "general election campaign which followed the rejection of the 1909 Budget by the Conservative majority in the House of Lords." The book was divided into six sections:
Winston S. Churchill
1. The People's Rights
2. The People's Budget
3. The People's Trade
4. The People's Land
5. The People's Welfare
6. The People's Choice
To further quote the introduction to a 1971 reprint,
in The People's Rights was to
provide a comprehensive summary of the Liberal cause for the
election. But his speeches in 1909 and earlier had inevitably
touched upon enduring problems and appealed to basic principles. Underlying
all the arguments in The
People's Rights was one fundamental political objective: the
raising of the welfare of the people. As early as 1899, Churchill
had told his cousin, Ivor Guest: 'The improvement of the British breed
is my political aim in life.'"
The People's Land
Winston Churchill, 1909
Land differs from all other forms of property | Misleading analogies | Unearned increment | Unearned increment reaped in exact proportion to the dis-service done | The drag on enterprise | Every form of enterprise only undertaken after the land monopolist has skimmed the cream off for himself | The landowner absorbs a share of almost every public and private benefit | The Manchester Ship Canal and unearned increments | The shareholders and the ratepayers | The system to be attacked, not individuals | We do not go back on the past | Tax on capital value undeveloped land | Nothing new in the principle of valuation for taxation | The exemption of agricultural land from taxation | The concession to agricultural landowners | The maligned Development Bill
It is, therefore, of the first importance to the country -- to any country -- that there should be vigilant and persistent efforts
Land differs from all other forms of property. It is quite true that the land monopoly is not the only monopoly which exists, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies -- is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly. It is quite true that unearned increments in land are not the only form of unearned or undeserved profit which individuals are able to secure; but it is the principal form of unearned increment which is derived from processes which are not merely not beneficial, but which are positively detrimental to the general public. Land, which is a necessity of human existence, which is the original source of all wealth, which is strictly limited in extent, which is fixed in geographical position -- land, I say, differs from all other forms of property in these primary and fundamental conditions. Nothing is more amusing than to watch the efforts of our monopolist opponents to prove that other forms of property and increment are exactly the same and are similar in all respects to the unearned increment in land. They talk to us of the increased profits of a doctor or a lawyer from the growth of population in the towns in which they live. They talk to us of the profits of a railway through a greater degree of wealth and activity in the districts through which it runs. They tell us of the profits which are derived from a rise in stocks and shares, and even of those which are sometimes derived from the sale of pictures and works of art, and they ask us, as if it were the only complaint, 'Ought not all these other forms to be taxed too?'
Misleading analogies. But see how misleading and false all these analogies are. The windfalls which people with artistic gifts are able from time to time to derive from the sale of a picture -- from a Vandyke or a Holbein -- may here and there be very considerable. But Pictures do not get in anybody's way. They do not lay a toll on anybody's labour; they do not touch enterprise and production at any point; they do not affect any of the creative processes upon which the material well-being of millions depends; and if a rise in stocks and shares confers profits on the fortunate holders far beyond what they expected, or indeed, deserved, nevertheless, that profit has not been reaped by withholding from the community the land which it needs, but, on the contrary, apart from mere gambling, it has been reaped by supplying industry with the capital without which it could not be carried on. If the railway makes greater profits, it is usually because it carries more goods and more passengers. If a doctor or a lawyer enjoys a better practice, it is because the doctor attends more patients and more exacting patients, and because the lawyer pleads more suits in the courts and more important suits. At every stage the doctor or the lawyer is giving service in return for his fees, and if the service is too poor or the fees are too high, other doctors and other lawyers can come freely into competition. There is constant service, there is constant competition; there is no monopoly, there is no injury to the public interest, there is no impediment to the general progress.
Unearned increment Fancy comparing these healthy processes with the enrichment which comes to the landlord who happens to own a plot of land on the outskirts or at the centre of one of our great cities, who watches the busy population around him making the city larger, richer, more convenient, more famous every day, and all the while sits still and does nothing. Roads are made, streets are made, railway services are improved, electric light turns night into day, electric trams glide swiftly to and fro, 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 at the cost of other people. Many of the most important are effected at the cost of the municipality and of the ratepayers. 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 sensibly enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare; he contributes nothing even to the process from which his own enrichment is derived. If the land were occupied by shops or by dwellings, the municipality at least would secure the rates upon them in aid of the general fund, but the land may be unoccupied, undeveloped, it may be what is called 'ripening' -- ripening at the expense of the whole city, of the whole country, for the unearned increment of its owner. Roads perhaps may have to be diverted to avoid this forbidden area. The merchant going to his office, the artisan going to his work, have to make a detour or pay a tram fare to avoid it. The citizens are losing their chance of developing the land, the city is losing its rates, the State is losing its taxes which would have accrued if the natural development had taken place; and that share has to be replaced at the expense of the other ratepayers and taxpayers, and the nation as a whole is losing in the competition of the world -- the hard and growing competition of the world -- both in time and money. And all the while the land monopolist has only to sit still and watch complacently his property multiplying in value, sometimes manifold, without either effort or contribution on his part; and that is justice!
Unearned increment reaped in exact proportion to the disservice done. But let us follow the process a little further. The population of the city grows and grows still larger year by year, the congestion in the poorer quarters becomes acute, rents and rates rise hand in hand, and thousands of families are crowded into one-roomed tenements. There are 120,000 persons living in one-roomed tenements in Glasgow alone at the present time. At last the land becomes ripe for sale -- that means that the price is too tempting to be resisted any longer -- and then, and not till then, it is sold by the yard or by the inch at ten times, or twenty times, or even fifty times, its agricultural value, on which alone hitherto it has been rated for the public service. The greater the population around the land, the greater the injury which they have sustained by its protracted denial, the more inconvenience which has been caused to everybody, the more serious the loss in economic strength and activity, the larger will be the profit of the landlord when the sale is finally accomplished. In fact, you may say that the unearned increment on the land is on all fours with the profit gathered by one of those American speculators who engineer a corner in corn, or meat, or cotton, or some other vital commodity, and that the unearned increment in land is reaped by the land monopolist in exact proportion, not to the service but to the disservice done.
The drag on enterprise It is monopoly which is the keynote, and where monopoly prevails, the greater the injury to society the greater the reward of the monopolist will be. See how all this evil process strikes at every form of industrial activity.
The landowner absorbs a share of almost every public and private benefit Some years ago in London there was a tollbar on a bridge across the Thames, and all the working people who lived on the south side of the river had to pay a daily toll of one penny for going and returning from their work. The spectacle of these poor people thus mulcted on so large a proportion of their earnings appealed to the public conscience, an agitation was set on foot, municipal authorities were roused, and at the cost of the ratepayers the bridge was freed and the toll removed. All those people who used the bridge were saved sixpence a week. Within a very short period from that time the rents on the south side of the river were found to have advanced by about sixpence a week, or the amount of the toll which had been remitted. And a friend of mine was telling me the other day that in the parish of Southwark about £350 a year, roughly speaking, was given away in doles of bread by charitable people in connection with one of the churches, and as a consequence of this the competition for small houses, but more particularly for single-roomed tenements, is, we are told, so great that rents are considerably higher than in the neighbouring district. All goes back to the land, and the landowner, who in many cases, in most cases, is a worthy person utterly unconscious of the character of the methods by which he is enriched, is enabled with resistless strength to absorb to himself a share of almost every public and every private benefit, however important or however pitiful those benefits may be.
The Manchester Ship Canal and unearned increments Now let the Manchester Ship Canal tell its tale about the land. It has a story to tell which is just as simple and just as pregnant as its story about Free Trade. When it was resolved to build the Canal, the first thing that had to be done was to buy the land. Before the resolution to build the Canal was taken, the land on which the Canal flows -- or perhaps I should say 'stands' -- was, in the main, agricultural land, paying rates on an assessment from 30s. to £2 an acre. I am told that 4,495 acres of land purchased fell within that description out of something under 5,000 purchased altogether. Immediately after the decision, the 4,495 acres were sold for £777,000 sterling -- or an average of £172 an acre -- that is to say, five or six times the agricultural value of the land and the value on which it had been rated for public purposes.
Now what had the landowner done for the community; what enterprise had he shown; what service had he rendered; what capital had he risked in order that he should gain this enormous multiplication of the value of his property? I will tell you in one word what he had done. Can you guess it? Nothing.
But it was not only the owners of the land that was needed for making the Canal, who were automatically enriched. All the surrounding land either having a frontage on the Canal or access to it rose and rose rapidly, and splendidly, in value. By the stroke of a fairy wand, without toil, without risk, without even a half-hour's thought many landowners in Salford, Eccles, Stretford, Irlam, Warrington Runcorn, etc., found themselves in possession of property which had trebled, quadrupled, quintupled in value.
Apart from the high prices which were paid, there was a heavy bill for compensation, severance, disturbance, and injurious affection where no land was taken -- injurious affection, namely, raising the land not taken many times in value -- all this was added to the dead-weight cost of construction. All this was a burden on those whose labour skill, and capital created this great public work. Much of this land today is still rated at ordinary agricultural value, and in order to make sure that no injustice is done, in order to make quite certain that these landowners are not injured by our system of government, half their rates are, under the Agricultural Rates Act, paid back to them. The balance is made up by you. The land is still rising in value, and with every day's work that every man in this neighbourhood does and with every addition to the prosperity of Manchester and improvement of this great city, the land is further enhanced in value.
The shareholders and the ratepayers I have told you what happened to the landowners. Let us see what happened to the shareholders and the ratepayers who found the money. The ordinary shareholders, who subscribed eight millions, have had no dividend yet. The Corporation loan of five millions interest on which is borne on the rates each year, had, until 1907, no return upon its capital. A return has come at last, and no doubt the future prospects are good; but there was a long interval -- even for the corporation. These are the men who did the work. These are the men who put up the money. I want to ask you a question. Do you think it would be very unfair if the owners of all this automatically created land value due to the growth of the city, to the enterprise of the community, and to the sacrifices made by the shareholders -- do you think it would have been very unfair, if they had been made to pay a proportion, at any rate, of the unearned increment which they secured, back to the city and the community?
The system to be attacked, not individuals. I hope you will understand that when I speak of the land monopolist I am dealing more with the process than with the individual landowner. I have no wish to hold any class up to public disapprobation. I do not think that the man who makes money by unearned increment in land is morally a worse man than anyone else who gathers his profit where he finds it in this hard world under the law and according to common usage. It is not the individual I attack, it is the system. It is not the man who is bad, it is the law which is bad. It is not the man who is blameworthy for doing what the law allows and what other men do; it is the State which would be blameworthy were it not to endeavour to reform the law and correct the practice. We do not want to punish the landlord. We want to alter the law.
We do not go back on the past. Look at our actual proposal. We do not go back on the past. We accept as our basis the value as it stands today. The tax on the increment of land begins by recognizing and franking the past increment. We look only to the future, and for the future we say only this, that the community shall be the partner in any further increment above the present value after all the owner's improvements have been deducted. We say that the State and the municipality should jointly levy a toll upon the future unearned increment of the land. The toll of what? Of the whole? No. Of a half? No. Of a quarter! No. Of a fifth -- that is the proposal of the Budget, and that is robbery, that is Plunder, that is communism and spoliation, that is the social revolution at last, that is the overturn of civilized society, that is the end of the world foretold in the Apocalypse! Such is the increment tax about which so much chatter and outcry are raised at the present time, and upon which I will say that no more fair, considerate, or salutary proposal for taxation has ever been made in the House of Commons.
Tax on capital value of undeveloped land But there is another proposal concerning land values which is not less important. I mean the tax on the capital value of undeveloped urban or suburban land. The income derived from land and its rateable value under the present law depend upon the use to which the land is put, consequently income and rateable value are not always true or complete measures of the value of the land. Take the case to which I have already referred of the man who keeps a large plot in or near a growing town idle for years while it is ripening -- that is to say, while it is rising in price through the exertions of the surrounding community and the need of that community for more room to live. Take that case. I daresay you have formed your own opinion upon it. Mr Balfour, Lord Lansdowne, and the Conservative Party generally, think that is an admirable arrangement. They speak of the profits of the land monopolist as if they were the fruits of thrift and industry and a pleasing example for the poorer classes to imitate. We do not take that view of the process. We think it is a dog-in-the-manger game. We see the evil, we see the imposture upon the public, and we see the consequences in crowded slums, in hampered commerce, in distorted or restricted development, and in congested centres of population, and we say here and now to the land monopolist who is holding up his land -- and the pity is it was not said before -- you shall judge for yourselves whether it is a fair offer or not. We say to the land monopolist: 'This property of yours might be put to immediate use with general advantage. It is at this minute saleable in the market at ten times the value at which it is rated. If you choose to keep it idle in the expectation of still further unearned increment, then at least you shall he taxed at the true selling value in the meanwhile.' And the Budget proposes a tax of a halfpenny in the pound on the capital value of all such land; that is to say, a tax which is a little less in equivalent than the income tax would be upon the property if the property were fully developed. That is the second main proposal of the Budget with regard to the land, and its effects will be,
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper