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Dogs in the Manger

Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)

The squalid poverty that festers in the heart of our civilization, the vice and crime and degradation and ravening greed that flow from it, are the results of a treatment of land that ignores the simple law of justice, a law so clear and plain that it is universally recognized by the veriest savages. What is by nature the common birthright of all, we have made the exclusive property of individuals; what is by natural law the common fund, from which common wants should be met, we give to a few that they may lord it over their fellows. And so some are gorged while some go hungry, and more is wasted than would suffice to keep all in luxury.

In this nineteenth century, among any people who have begun to utilize the forces and methods of modern production, there is no necessity for want. There is no good reason why even the poorest should not have all the comforts, all the luxuries, all the opportunities for culture, all the gratifications of refined taste that only the richest now enjoy. There is no reason why any one should be compelled to long and monotonous labor. Did invention and discovery stop to day, the forces of production are ample for this. What hampers production is the unnatural inequality in distribution. And, with just distribution, invention and discovery would only have begun.

Appropriate rent in the way I propose, and speculative rent would be at once destroyed. The dogs in the manger who are now holding so much land they have no use for, in order to extract a high price from those who do want to use it, would be at once choked off, and land from which labor and capital are now debarred under penalty of a heavy fine would be thrown open to improvement and use. The incentive to land monopoly would be gone. Population would spread where it is now too dense, and become denser where it is now too sparse. ... read the whole article

Henry George: The Common Sense of Taxation (1881 article)

To illustrate: A man builds a fine house or large factory in a poorly improved neighborhood. To tax this building and its adjuncts is to make him pay for his enterprise and expenditure — to take from him part of his natural reward. But the improvement thus made has given new beauty or life to the neighborhood, making it a more desirable place than before for the erection of other houses or factories, and additional value is given to land all about. Now to tax improvements is not only to deprive of his proper reward the man who has made the improvement, but it is to deter others from making similar improvements. But, instead of taxing improvements, to tax these land values is to leave the natural inducement to further improvement in full force, and at the same time to keep down an obstacle to further improvement, which, under the present system, improvement itself tends to raise. For the advance of land values which follows improvement, and even the expectation of improvement, makes further improvement more costly.

See how unjust and short-sighted is this system. Here is a man who, gathering what little capital he can, and taking his family, starts West to find a place where he can make himself a home. He must travel long distances; for, though he will pass plenty of land nobody is using, it is held at prices too high for him. Finally he will go no further, and selects a place where, since the creation of the world, the soil, so far as we know, has never felt a plowshare. But here, too, in nine cases out of ten, he will find the speculator has been ahead of him, for the speculator moves quicker, and has superior means of information to the emigrant. Before he can put this land to the use for which nature intended it, and to which it is for the general good that it should be put, he must make terms with some man who in all probability never saw the land, and never dreamed of using it, and who, it may be, resides in some city, thousands of miles away. In order to get permission to use this land, he must give up a large part of the little capital which is seed-wheat to him, and perhaps in addition mortgage his future labor for years. Still he goes to work: he works himself, and his wife works, and his children work — work like horses, and live in the hardest and dreariest manner. Such a man deserves encouragement, not discouragement; but on him taxation falls with peculiar severity. Almost everything that he has to buy — groceries, clothing, tools — is largely raised in price by a system of tariff taxation which cannot add to the price of the grain or hogs or cattle that he has to sell. And when the assessor comes around he is taxed on the improvements he has made, although these improvements have added not only to the value of surrounding land, but even to the value of land in distant commercial centers. Not merely this, but, as a general rule, his land, irrespective of the improvements, will be assessed at a higher rate than unimproved land around it, on the ground that "productive property" ought to pay more than "unproductive property" — a principle just the reverse of the correct one, for the man who makes land productive adds to the general prosperity, while the man who keeps land unproductive stands in the way of the general prosperity, is but a dog-in-the-manger, who prevents others from using what he will not use himself.

Or, take the case of the railroads. That railroads are a public benefit no one will dispute. We want more railroads, and want them to reduce their fares and freight. Why then should we tax them? for taxes upon railroads deter from railroad building, and compel higher charges. Instead of taxing the railroads, is it not clear that we should rather tax the increased value which they give to land? To tax railroads is to check railroad building, to reduce profits, and compel higher rates; to tax the value they give to land is to increase railroad business and permit lower rates. The elevated railroads, for instance, have opened to the overcrowded population of New York the wide, vacant spaces of the upper part of the island. But this great public benefit is neutralized by the rise in land values. Because these vacant lots can be reached more cheaply and quickly, their owners demand more for them, and so the public gain in one way is offset in another, while the roads lose the business they would get were not building checked by the high prices demanded for lots. The increase of land values, which the elevated roads have caused, is not merely no advantage to them — it is an injury; and it is clearly a public injury. The elevated railroads ought not to be taxed. The more profit they make, with the better conscience can they be asked to still further reduce fares. It is the increased land values which they have created that ought to be taxed, for taxing them will give the public the full benefit of cheap fares.

So with railroads everywhere. And so not alone with railroads, but with all industrial enterprises. So long as we consider that community most prosperous which increases most rapidly in wealth, so long is it the height of absurdity for us to tax wealth in any of its beneficial forms. We should tax what we want to repress, not what we want to encourage. We should tax that which results from the general prosperity, not that which conduces to it. It is the increase of population, the extension of cultivation, the manufacture of goods, the building of houses and ships and railroads, the accumulation of capital, and the growth of commerce that add to the value of land — not the increase in the value of land that induces the increase of population and increase of wealth. It is not that the land of Manhattan Island is now worth hundreds of millions where, in the time of the early Dutch settlers, it was only worth dollars, that there are on it now so many more people, and so much more wealth. It is because of the increase of population and the increase of wealth that the value of the land has so much increased. Increase of land values tends of itself to repel population and prevent improvement. And thus the taxation of land values, unlike taxation of other property, does not tend to prevent the increase of wealth, but rather to stimulate it. It is the taking of the golden egg, not the choking of the goose that lays it.

Every consideration of policy and ethics squares with this conclusion. The tax upon land values is the most economically perfect of all taxes. It does not raise prices; it maybe collected at least cost, and with the utmost ease and certainty; it leaves in full strength all the springs of production; and, above all, it consorts with the truest equality and the highest justice. For, to take for the common purposes of the community that value which results from the growth of the community, and to free industry and enterprise and thrift from burden and restraint, is to leave to each that which he fairly earns, and to assert the first and most comprehensive of equal rights — the equal right of all to the land on which, and from which, all must live.

Thus it is that the scheme of taxation which conduces to the greatest production is also that which conduces to the fairest distribution, and that in the proper adjustment of taxation lies not merely the possibility of enormously increasing the general wealth, but the solution of these pressing social and political problems which spring from unnatural inequality in the distribution of wealth. ... read the whole article

Henry George: Why The Landowner Cannot Shift The Tax on Land Values (1887)

But while the Taxation of Land Values cannot raise rents, it would, especially in a country like this, where there is so much valuable land unused, tend strongly to lower them. In all our cities, and through all the country, there is much land which is not used, or not put to its best use, because it is held at high prices by men who do not want to, or who cannot, use it themselves, but who are holding it in expectation of profiting by the increased value which the growth of population will give to it in the future. Now the effect of the Taxation of Land Values would be to compel these men to seek tenants or purchasers. Land upon which there is no taxation even a poor man can easily hold for higher prices, for land eats nothing. But put heavy taxation upon it, and even a rich man will be driven to seek purchasers or tenants, and to get them he will have to put down the price he asks, instead of putting it up; for it is by asking less, not by asking more, that those who have anything they are forced to dispose of must seek customers. Rather than continue to pay heavy taxes upon land yielding him nothing, and from the future increase in value of which he could have no expectation of profit, since increase in value would mean increased taxes, he would be glad to give it away or let it revert to the State. Thus the dogs in the manger, who all over the country are withholding land that they cannot use themselves from men who would be glad to use it, would be forced to let go their grasp. To tax Land Values up to anything like their full amount would be to utterly destroy speculative values, and to diminish all rents into which this speculative element enters. And how groundless it is to think that landlords who have tenants could shift a tax on Land Values upon their tenants can be readily seen from the effect upon landlords who have no tenants. It is when tenants seek for land, not when landlords seek for tenants, that rent goes up. ... read the whole article

Henry George: The Crime of Poverty  (1885 speech)

Now go into the cities and what do you see! Why, you see even a lower depth of poverty; aye, if I would point out the worst of the evils of land monopoly I would not take you to Connemara; I would not take you to Skye or Kintire — I would take you to Dublin or Glasgow or London. There is something worse than physical deprivation, something worse than starvation; and that is the degradation of the mind, the death of the soul. That is what you will find in those cities.

Now, what is the cause of that? Why, it is plainly to be seen; the people driven off the land in the country are driven into the slums of the cities. For every man that is driven off the land the demand for the produce of the workmen of the cities is lessened; and the man himself with his wife and children, is forced among those workmen to compete upon any terms for a bare living and force wages down. Get work he must or starve — get work he must or do that which those people, so long as they maintain their manly feelings, dread more than death, go to the alms-houses. That is the reason, here as in Great Britain, that the cities are overcrowded. Open the land that is locked up, that is held by dogs in the manger, who will not use it themselves and will not allow anybody else to use it, and you would see no more of tramps and hear no more of over-production. ...

What is the reason for this overcrowding of cities? There is no natural reason. Take New York, one half its area is not built upon. Why, then, must people crowd together as they do there? Simply because of private ownership of land. There is plenty of room to build houses and plenty, of people who want to build houses, but before anybody can build a house a blackmail price must be paid to some dog in the manger. It costs in many cases more to get vacant ground upon which to build a house than it does to build the house. And then what happens to the man who pays this blackmail and builds a house? Down comes the tax-gatherer and fines him for building the house.

It is so all over the United States — the men who improve, the men who turn the prairie into farms and the desert into gardens, the men who beautify your cities, are taxed and fined for having done these things. Now, nothing is clearer than that the people of New York want more houses; and I think that even here in Burlington you could get along with more houses. Why, then, should you fine a man who builds one? Look all over this country — the bulk of the taxation rests upon the improver; the man who puts up a building, or establishes a factory, or cultivates a farm he is taxed for it; and not merely taxed for it, but I think in nine cases out of ten the land which he uses, the bare land, is taxed more than the adjoining lot or the adjoining 160 acres that some speculator is holding as a mere dog in the manger, not using it himself and not allowing anybody else to use it. ... read the whole speech

Henry George: The Great Debate: Single Tax vs Social Democracy  (1889)
With taxes on land values, with taxes on economic rent from land, whether it was vacant land or the site of a factory, or pleasure ground or farm, would compel all over this country the “dogs in the manger” to let go their grasp. (Hear, hear and cheers.) It would give opportunities by which labour could employ itself. ...  Read the entire article
Henry George: Thou Shalt Not Steal  (1887 speech)
What we propose to do is to divide up the rent that comes from land; and that is a very easy thing.

We need not disturb anybody in possession, we need not interfere with anybody’s building or anybody’s improvement. We only need to remit taxes on all improvements, on all forms of wealth, and put the tax on the value of the land, exclusive of the improvements, so that the dog-in-the-manger who is holding a piece of vacant land will have to pay the same amount of tax for it as land of similar value with a building or other improvements upon it. In that way we would treat the whole land of such a community as being the common estate of the whole people of the community. ...

A few weeks ago when I was traveling in Illinois a young fellow got into the car at one of the mining towns. Entering into conversation with him, he said he was going to another place to try to get work. He told me of the condition of the miners, that they could scarcely make a living, getting very small wages, and only working about half the time. I said to him: "There is plenty of coal in the ground; why don’t you employ yourselves in digging coal?" He replied: "We did get up a co-operative company, and we went to see the owner of the land to ask what he would take to let us sink a shaft and get out some coal. He wanted $7,500 a year. We could not raise that much." Tax land up to its full value, and how long can such dogs-in-the-manger afford to hold that coal land away from these men? And when people who want work can go and employ themselves, then there will be no million or no thousand unemployed people in all the United States. ...  read the whole article

Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894) — Appendix: FAQ

Q51. Yes; but when the home place is parted with now, the home owner is compensated by the high price he gets.
A. Then your question does not turn upon the home sentiment but upon the dollar sentiment. As a matter of sentiment, the condition would be no worse in any case than now, and in many cases far better; as a matter of dollars, the question is one of justice and not of the home. Under the single tax any one who wanted a home could have it, and never be obliged to abandon one home for another, unless such changes took place in the neighborhood as to make the place inappropriate for a home. He could not then, as he does now, play dog in the manger, saying to the community, "I will not use this place for appropriate purposes, nor will I allow any one else to do so."

... read the book

Winston Churchill: The People's Land  

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,
  • first, to raise an expanding revenue for the needs of the State;
  • secondly, half the proceeds of this tax, as well as of the other land taxes, will go to the municipalities and local authorities generally to relieve rates;
  • thirdly, the effect will be, as we believe, to bring land into the market, and thus somewhat cheapen the price at which land is obtainable for every object, public and private, and by so doing we shall liberate new springs of enterprise and industry, we shall stimulate building, relieve overcrowding, and promote employment. .... Read the whole piece

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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper