Must Make Land Common Property!
That statement sounds positively unamerican when one first hears it! But
we aren't talking about disturbing titles to property. We're talking about
for the commons the economic value of the land. Suspend disbelief
for a moment, and read on.
If you have difficulty thinking about this on American soil, think about it
for Iraq, or for countries to which we give foreign aid.
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 5: The Basic
Cause of Poverty (in the unabridged: Book
V: The Problem Solved)
... The truth is self-evident. Put to any one capable of consecutive thought
"Suppose there should arise from the English Channel or the German
Ocean a no man's land on which common labor to an unlimited amount should
to make thirty shillings a day and which should remain unappropriated and
of free access, like the commons which once comprised so large a part of
soil. What would be the effect upon wages in England?"
He would at once tell you that common wages throughout England must soon increase
to thirty shillings a day.
And in response to another question, "What would be the effect on rents?" he
would at a moment's reflection say that rents must necessarily fall; and
if he thought out the next step he would tell you that all this would happen
any very large part of English labor being diverted to the new natural
opportunities, or the forms and direction of industry being much changed;
only that kind of
production being abandoned which now yields to labor and to landlord together
less than labor could secure on the new opportunities. The great rise in
wages would be at the expense of rent.
Take now the same man or another — some hardheaded business man, who
has no theories, but knows how to make money. Say to him: "Here is a little
village; in ten years it will be a great city — in ten years the
railroad will have taken the place of the stage coach, the electric light
of the candle;
it will abound with all the machinery and improvements that so enormously
multiply the effective power of labor. Will, in ten years, interest be
He will tell you, "No!"
"Will the wages of common labor be any higher; will it be easier for
a man who has nothing but his labor to make an independent living?"
He will tell you, "No; the wages of common labor will not be any higher;
on the contrary, all the chances are that they will be lower; it will not
be easier for the mere laborer to make an independent living; the chances
that it will be harder."
"What, then, will be higher?"
"Rent; the value of land. Go, get yourself a piece of ground, and hold
And if, under such circumstances, you take his advice, you need do nothing
more. You may sit down and smoke your pipe; you may lie around like the lazzaroni
of Naples or the leperos of Mexico; you may go up in a balloon, or down a hole
in the ground; and without doing one stroke of work, without adding one iota
to the wealth of the community, in ten years you will be rich! In the new city
you may have a luxurious mansion; but among its public buildings will be an
In all our long investigation we have been advancing to this simple truth:
That as land is necessary to the exertion of labor in the production of wealth,
to command the land which is necessary to labor, is to command all the fruits
of labor save enough to enable labor to exist. ...
... For land is the habitation of man, the storehouse upon which he must
draw for all his needs, the material to which his labor must be applied for
supply of all his desires; for even the products of the sea cannot be taken,
the light of the sun enjoyed, or any of the forces of nature utilized,
without the use of land or its products. On the land we are born, from it
to it we return again — children of the soil as truly as is the blade
of grass or the flower of the field. Take away from man all that belongs
to land, and he is but a disembodied spirit. Material progress cannot rid
our dependence upon land; it can but add to the power of producing wealth
from land; and hence, when land is monopolized, it might go on to infinity
increasing wages or improving the condition of those who have but their
labor. It can but add to the value of land and the power which its possession
Everywhere, in all times, among all peoples, the possession of land is
the base of aristocracy, the foundation of great fortunes, the source of
... read the whole chapter
Thomas Flavin, writing in The
Now, it is quite true that all taxes of whatever nature are paid out of
the products of labor. But must they be for that reason a tax on labor products.
Let us see.
I suppose you won't deny that a unit of labor applies to different kinds
of land will give very different results. Suppose that a unit of labor produces
on A's land 4, on B's 3, on C's 2 and on D's 1. A's land is the most, and
D's is the least, productive land in use in the community to which they belong.
B's and C's represent intermediate grades. Suppose each occupies the best
land that was open to him when he entered into possession. Now, B, and C,
and D have just as good a right to the use of the best land as A had.
Manifestly then, if this be the whole story, there cannot be equality of
opportunity where a unit of labor produces such different results, all other
things being equal except the land.
How is this equality to be secured? There is but one possible way. Each
must surrender for the common use of all, himself included, whatever advantages
accrues to him from the possession of land superior to that which falls to
the lot of him who occupies the poorest.
In the case stated, what the unit of labor produces for D, is what it should
produce for A, B and C, if these are not to have an advantage of natural
opportunity over D.
Hence equity is secured when A pays 3, B, 2 and C, 1 into a common fund
for the common use of all — to be expended, say in digging a well,
making a road or bridge, building a school, or other public utility.
Is it not manifest that here the tax which A, B and C pay into a common
fund, and from which D is exempt, is not a tax on their labor products (though
paid out of them) but a tax on the superior advantage which they enjoy over
D, and to which D has just as good a right as any of them.
The result of this arrangement is that each takes up as much of the best
land open to him as he can put to gainful use, and what he cannot so use
he leaves open for the next. Moreover, he is at no disadvantage with the
rest who have come in ahead of him, for they provide for him, in proportion
to their respective advantages, those public utilities which invariably arise
wherever men live in communities. Of course he will in turn hold to those
who come later the same relation that those who came earlier held to him.
Suppose now that taxes had been levied on labor products instead of land;
all that any land-holder would have to do to avoid the tax is to produce
little or nothing. He could just squat on his land, neither using it himself
nor letting others use it, but he would not stop at this, for he would grab
to the last acre all that he could possibly get hold of. Each of the others
would do the same in turn, with the sure result that by and by, E, F and
G would find no land left for them on which they might make a living.
So they would have to hire their labor to those who had already monopolized
the land, or else buy or rent a piece of land from them. Behold now the devil
of landlordism getting his hoof on God's handiwork! Exit justice, freedom,
social peace and plenty. Enter robbery, slavery, social discontent, consuming
grief, riotous but unearned wealth, degrading pauperism, crime breeding,
want, the beggar's whine, and the tyrant's iron heel.
And how did it all come about? By the simple expedient of taxing labor products
in order that precious landlordism might laugh and grow fat on the bovine
stupidity of the community that contributes its own land values toward its
And yet men vacuously ask, "What difference does it make?"
O tempora! O mores! To be as plain as is necessary, it makes this four-fold
- First, it robs the community of its land values;
- second, it robs labor of its wages in the name of taxation;
- third, it sustains and fosters landlordism, a most conspicuously damnable
- fourth, it exhibits willing workers in enforced idleness; beholding their
families in want on the one hand, and unused land that would yield them
abundance on the other.
This last is a difference that cries to heaven for vengeance, and if it
does not always cry in vain, will W. C. Brann be able to draw his robe close
around him and with a good conscience exclaim, "It's none of my fault;
I am not my brother's keeper."
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 6: The
Remedy (in the unabridged: Books VI:
The Remedy and VII:
Justice of the Remedy)
Poverty deepens as wealth increases, and wages are forced down while
productive power grows, because land, which is the source of all wealth
and the field of all labor, is monopolized. To extirpate poverty, to
make wages what justice commands they should be, the full earnings of
the laborer, we must therefore substitute for the individual ownership
of land a common ownership.*
*By the phrase "common ownership" of land,
Henry George did not mean that land should be held in common or by
the State, nor did he propose to interfere with the existing system
of land tenures. (See Sections 7 and 12, post.) As in this condensation
much of George's argument necessarily has been omitted, the following
extracts from his later work "Protection or Free Trade," chapter
XXVI, are appended to make his position clear to the present reader.
"No one would sow a crop, or build
a house, or open a mine, or plant an orchard, or cut a drain, so
long as any one else could come in and turn him out of the land in
which or on which such improvement must be fixed. Thus is it absolutely
necessary to the proper use and improvement of land that society
should secure to the user and improver safe possession. ... We can
leave land now being used in the secure possession of those using
it. ... on condition that those who hold land shall pay to the community
a ... rent based on the value of the privilege the individual receives
from the community in being accorded the exclusive use of this much
of the common property, and which should have no reference to any
improvement he has made in or on it, or to any profit due to the
use of his labor and capital. In this way all would be placed on
an equality in regard to the use and enjoyment of those natural elements
which are clearly the common heritage."
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
God’s laws do not change. Though their applications may alter with
altering conditions, the same principles of right and wrong that hold when
men are few and industry is rude also hold amid teeming populations and complex
industries. In our cities of millions and our states of scores of millions,
in a civilization where the division of labor has gone so far that large
numbers are hardly conscious that they are land-users, it still remains true
that we are all land animals and can live only on land, and that land is
God’s bounty to all, of which no one can be deprived without being
murdered, and for which no one can be compelled to pay another without being
robbed. But even in a state of society where the elaboration of industry
and the increase of permanent improvements have made the need for private
possession of land wide-spread, there is no difficulty in conforming individual
possession with the equal right to land. For as soon as any piece of land
will yield to the possessor a larger return than is had by similar labor
on other land a value attaches to it which is shown when it is sold or rented.
Thus, the value of the land itself, irrespective of the value of any improvements
in or on it, always indicates the precise value of the benefit to which all
are entitled in its use, as distinguished from the value which, as producer
or successor of a producer, belongs to the possessor in individual right.
To combine the advantages of private possession with the justice of common
ownership it is only necessary therefore to take for common uses what value
attaches to land irrespective of any exertion of labor on it. The principle
is the same as in the case referred to, where a human father leaves equally
to his children things not susceptible of specific division or common use.
In that case such things would be sold or rented and the value equally applied.
It is on this common-sense principle that we, who term ourselves single-tax
men, would have the community act.
We do not propose to assert equal rights to land by keeping land common,
letting any one use any part of it at any time. We do not propose the task,
impossible in the present state of society, of dividing land in equal shares;
still less the yet more impossible task of keeping it so divided.
We propose — leaving land in the private possession of individuals,
with full liberty on their part to give, sell or bequeath it — simply
to levy on it for public uses a tax that shall equal the annual value of
the land itself, irrespective of the use made of it or the improvements on
it. And since this would provide amply for the need of public revenues, we
would accompany this tax on land values with the repeal of all taxes now
levied on the products and processes of industry — which taxes, since
they take from the earnings of labor, we hold to be infringements of the
right of property.
This we propose, not as a cunning device of human ingenuity, but as a conforming
of human regulations to the will of God.
God cannot contradict himself nor impose on his creatures laws that clash.
If it be God’s command to men that they should not steal — that
is to say, that they should respect the right of property which each one
has in the fruits of his labor;
And if he be also the Father of all men, who in his common bounty has intended
all to have equal opportunities for sharing;
Then, in any possible stage of civilization, however elaborate, there must
be some way in which the exclusive right to the products of industry may
be reconciled with the equal right to land.
If the Almighty be consistent with himself, it cannot be, as say those socialists
referred to by you, that in order to secure the equal participation of men
in the opportunities of life and labor we must ignore the right of private
property. Nor yet can it be, as you yourself in the Encyclical seem to argue,
that to secure the right of private property we must ignore the equality
of right in the opportunities of life and labor. To say the one thing or
the other is equally to deny the harmony of God’s laws.
But, the private possession of land, subject to the payment to the community
of the value of any special advantage thus given to the individual, satisfies
both laws, securing to all equal participation in the bounty of the Creator
and to each the full ownership of the products of his labor. ...
Your use, in so many passages of your Encyclical, of the inclusive term “property” or “private” property,
of which in morals nothing can be either affirmed or denied, makes your meaning,
if we take isolated sentences, in many places ambiguous. But reading it as
a whole, there can be no doubt of your intention that private property in
land shall be understood when you speak merely of private property. With
this interpretation, I find that the reasons you urge for private property
in land are eight. Let us consider them in order of presentation. You urge:
1. That what is bought with rightful property is rightful property. (RN,
paragraph 5) ...
2. That private property in land proceeds from man’s gift of reason.
(RN, paragraphs 6-7.) ...
3. That private property in land deprives no one of the use of land. (RN,
paragraph 8.) ...
4. That Industry expended on land gives ownership in the land itself. (RN,
paragraphs 9-10.) ...
5. That private property in land has the support of the common opinion of
mankind, and has conduced to peace and tranquillity, and that it is sanctioned
by Divine Law. (RN, paragraph 11.) ...
6. That fathers should provide for their children and that private property
in land is necessary to enable them to do so. (RN, paragraphs 14-17.) ...
7. That the private ownership of land stimulates industry, increases wealth,
and attaches men to the soil and to their country. (RN, paragraph 51.) ...
8. That the right to possess private property in land is from nature, not
from man; that the state has no right to abolish it, and that to take the
value of landownership in taxation would be unjust and cruel to the private
owner. (RN, paragraph 51.) ...
2. That private property in land proceeds from man’s gift of reason. (6-7.)
In the second place your Holiness argues that man possessing reason and
forethought may not only acquire ownership of the fruits of the earth, but
also of the earth itself, so that out of its products he may make provision
for the future.
Reason, with its attendant forethought, is indeed the distinguishing attribute
of man; that which raises him above the brute, and shows, as the Scriptures
declare, that he is created in the likeness of God. And this gift of reason
does, as your Holiness points out, involve the need and right of private
property in whatever is produced by the exertion of reason and its attendant
forethought, as well as in what is produced by physical labor. In truth,
these elements of man’s production are inseparable, and labor involves
the use of reason. It is by his reason that man differs from the animals
in being a producer, and in this sense a maker. Of themselves his physical
powers are slight, forming as it were but the connection by which the mind
takes hold of material things, so as to utilize to its will the matter and
forces of nature. It is mind, the intelligent reason, that is the prime mover
in labor, the essential agent in production.
The right of private ownership does therefore indisputably attach to things
provided by man’s reason and forethought. But it cannot attach to things
provided by the reason and forethought of God!
To illustrate: Let us suppose a company traveling through the desert as
the Israelites traveled from Egypt. Such of them as had the forethought to
provide themselves with vessels of water would acquire a just right of property
in the water so carried, and in the thirst of the waterless desert those
who had neglected to provide themselves, though they might ask water from
the provident in charity, could not demand it in right. For while water itself
is of the providence of God, the presence of this water in such vessels,
at such place, results from the providence of the men who carried it. Thus
they have to it an exclusive right.
But suppose others use their forethought in pushing ahead and appropriating
the springs, refusing when their fellows come up to let them drink of the
water save as they buy it of them. Would such forethought give any right?
Your Holiness, it is not the forethought of carrying water where it is needed,
but the forethought of seizing springs, that you seek to defend in defending
the private ownership of land!
Let me show this more fully, since it may be worth while to meet those who
say that if private property in land be not just, then private property in
the products of labor is not just, as the material of these products is taken
from land. It will be seen on consideration that all of man’s production
is analogous to such transportation of water as we have supposed. In growing
grain, or smelting metals, or building houses, or weaving cloth, or doing
any of the things that constitute producing, all that man does is to change
in place or form preexisting matter. As a producer man is merely a changer,
not a creator; God alone creates. And since the changes in which man’s
production consists inhere in matter so long as they persist, the right of
private ownership attaches the accident to the essence, and gives the right
of ownership in that natural material in which the labor of production is
embodied. Thus water, which in its original form and place is the common
gift of God to all men, when drawn from its natural reservoir and brought
into the desert, passes rightfully into the ownership of the individual who
by changing its place has produced it there.
But such right of ownership is in reality a mere right of temporary possession.
For though man may take material from the storehouse of nature and change
it in place or form to suit his desires, yet from the moment he takes it,
it tends back to that storehouse again. Wood decays, iron rusts, stone disintegrates
and is displaced, while of more perishable products, some will last for only
a few months, others for only a few days, and some disappear immediately
on use. Though, so far as we can see, matter is eternal and force forever
persists; though we can neither annihilate nor create the tiniest mote that
floats in a sunbeam or the faintest impulse that stirs a leaf, yet in the
ceaseless flux of nature, man’s work of moving and combining constantly
passes away. Thus the recognition of the ownership of what natural material
is embodied in the products of man never constitutes more than temporary
possession — never interferes with the reservoir provided for all.
As taking water from one place and carrying it to another place by no means
lessens the store of water, since whether it is drunk or spilled or left
to evaporate, it must return again to the natural reservoirs — so is
it with all things on which man in production can lay the impress of his
Hence, when you say that man’s reason puts it within his right to
have in stable and permanent possession not only things that perish in the
using, but also those that remain for use in the future, you are right in
so far as you may include such things as buildings, which with repair will
last for generations, with such things as food or fire-wood, which are destroyed
in the use. But when you infer that man can have private ownership in those
permanent things of nature that are the reservoirs from which all must draw,
you are clearly wrong. Man may indeed hold in private ownership the fruits
of the earth produced by his labor, since they lose in time the impress of
that labor, and pass again into the natural reservoirs from which they were
taken, and thus the ownership of them by one works no injury to others. But
he cannot so own the earth itself, for that is the reservoir from which must
constantly be drawn not only the material with which alone men can produce,
but even their very bodies.
The conclusive reason why man cannot claim ownership in the earth itself
as he can in the fruits that he by labor brings forth from it, is in the
facts stated by you in the very next paragraph (7), when you truly say:
Man’s needs do not die out, but recur; satisfied today, they demand
new supplies tomorrow. Nature, therefore, owes to man a storehouse that
shall never fail, the daily supply of his daily wants. And this he finds
the inexhaustible fertility of the earth.
By man you mean all men. Can what nature owes to all men be made the private
property of some men, from which they may debar all other men?
Let me dwell on the words of your Holiness, “Nature, therefore, owes
to man a storehouse that shall never fail.” By Nature you mean God.
Thus your thought, that in creating us, God himself has incurred an obligation
to provide us with a storehouse that shall never fail, is the same as is
thus expressed and carried to its irresistible conclusion by the Bishop of
God was perfectly free in the act by which He created us; but having created
us he bound himself by that act to provide us with the means necessary
for our subsistence. The land is the only source of this kind now known
The land, therefore, of every country is the common property of the people
of that country, because its real owner, the Creator who made it, has
transferred it as a voluntary gift to them. “Terram autem dedit
filiis hominum.” Now,
as every individual in that country is a creature and child of God, and
as all his creatures are equal in his sight, any settlement of the land
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
man, but, moreover, be AN IMPIOUS RESISTANCE TO THE BENEVOLENT INTENTIONS
OF HIS CREATOR. ...
5. That private property in land has the support of the common opinion
of mankind, and has conduced to peace and tranquillity, and that it is sanctioned
by Divine Law. (11.)
Even were it true that the common opinion of mankind has sanctioned private
property in land, this would no more prove its justice than the once universal
practice of the known world would have proved the justice of slavery.
But it is not true. Examination will show that wherever we can trace them
the first perceptions of mankind have always recognized the equality of right
to land, and that when individual possession became necessary to secure the
right of ownership in things produced by labor some method of securing equality,
sufficient in the existing state of social development, was adopted. Thus,
among some peoples, land used for cultivation was periodically divided, land
used for pasturage and wood being held in common. Among others, every family
was permitted to hold what land it needed for a dwelling and for cultivation,
but the moment that such use and cultivation stopped any one else could step
in and take it on like tenure. Of the same nature were the land laws of the
Mosaic code. The land, first fairly divided among the people, was made inalienable
by the provision of the jubilee, under which, if sold, it reverted every
fiftieth year to the children of its original possessors.
Private property in land as we know it, the attaching to land of the same
right of ownership that justly attaches to the products of labor, has never
grown up anywhere save by usurpation or force. Like slavery, it is the result
of war. It comes to us of the modern world from your ancestors, the Romans,
whose civilization it corrupted and whose empire it destroyed.
It made with the freer spirit of the northern peoples the combination of
the feudal system, in which, though subordination was substituted for equality,
there was still a rough recognition of the principle of common rights in
land. A fief was a trust, and to enjoyment was annexed some obligation. The
sovereign, the representative of the whole people, was the only owner of
land. Of him, immediately or mediately, held tenants, whose possession involved
duties or payments, which, though rudely and imperfectly, embodied the idea
that we would carry out in the single tax, of taking land values for public
uses. The crown lands maintained the sovereign and the civil list; the church
lands defrayed the cost of public worship and instruction, of the relief
of the sick, the destitute and the wayworn; while the military tenures provided
for public defense and bore the costs of war. A fourth and very large portion
of the land remained in common, the people of the neighborhood being free
to pasture it, cut wood on it, or put it to other common uses.
In this partial yet substantial recognition of common rights to land is
to be found the reason why, in a time when the industrial arts were rude,
wars frequent, and the great discoveries and inventions of our time unthought
of, the condition of the laborer was devoid of that grinding poverty which
despite our marvelous advances now exists. Speaking of England, the highest
authority on such subjects, the late Professor Therold Rogers, declares that
in the thirteenth century there was no class so poor, so helpless, so pressed
and degraded as are millions of Englishmen in our boasted nineteenth century;
and that, save in times of actual famine, there was no laborer so poor as
to fear that his wife and children might come to want even were he taken
from them. Dark and rude in many respects as they were, these were the times
when the cathedrals and churches and religious houses whose ruins yet excite
our admiration were built; the times when England had no national debt, no
poor law, no standing army, no hereditary paupers, no thousands and thousands
of human beings rising in the morning without knowing where they might lay
their heads at night.
With the decay of the feudal system, the system of private property in land
that had destroyed Rome was extended. As to England, it may briefly be said
that the crown lands were for the most part given away to favorites; that
the church lands were parceled among his courtiers by Henry VIII., and in
Scotland grasped by the nobles; that the military dues were finally remitted
in the seventeenth century, and taxation on consumption substituted; and
that by a process beginning with the Tudors and extending to our own time
all but a mere fraction of the commons were inclosed by the greater landowners;
while the same private ownership of land was extended over Ireland and the
Scottish Highlands, partly by the sword and partly by bribery of the chiefs.
Even the military dues, had they been commuted, not remitted, would today
have more than sufficed to pay all public expenses without one penny of other
Of the New World, whose institutions but continue those of Europe, it is
only necessary to say that to the parceling out of land in great tracts is
due the backwardness and turbulence of Spanish America; that to the large
plantations of the Southern States of the Union was due the persistence of
slavery there, and that the more northern settlements showed the earlier
English feeling, land being fairly well divided and the attempts to establish
manorial estates coming to little or nothing. In this lies the secret of
the more vigorous growth of the Northern States. But the idea that land was
to be treated as private property had been thoroughly established in English
thought before the colonial period ended, and it has been so treated by the
United States and by the several States. And though land was at first sold
cheaply, and then given to actual settlers, it was also sold in large quantities
to speculators, given away in great tracts for railroads and other purposes,
until now the public domain of the United States, which a generation ago
seemed illimitable, has practically gone. And this, as the experience of
other countries shows, is the natural result in a growing community of making
land private property. When the possession of land means the gain of unearned
wealth, the strong and unscrupulous will secure it. But when, as we propose,
economic rent, the “unearned increment of wealth,” is taken by
the state for the use of the community, then land will pass into the hands
of users and remain there, since no matter how great its value, its possession
will be profitable only to users.
As to private property in land having conduced to the peace and tranquillity
of human life, it is not necessary more than to allude to the notorious fact
that the struggle for land has been the prolific source of wars and of lawsuits,
while it is the poverty engendered by private property in land that makes
the prison and the workhouse the unfailing attributes of what we call Christian
Your Holiness intimates that the Divine Law gives its sanction to the private
ownership of land, quoting from Deuteronomy, “Thou shalt not covet
thy neighbor’s wife, nor his house, nor his field, nor his man-servant,
nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything which is his.”
If, as your Holiness conveys, this inclusion of the words, “nor his
field,” is to be taken as sanctioning private property in land as it
exists today, then, but with far greater force, must the words, “his
man-servant, nor his maid-servant,” be taken to sanction chattel slavery;
for it is evident from other provisions of the same code that these terms
referred both to bondsmen for a term of years and to perpetual slaves. But
the word “field” involves the idea of use and improvement, to
which the right of possession and ownership does attach without recognition
of property in the land itself. And that this reference to the “field” is
not a sanction of private property in land as it exists today is proved by
the fact that the Mosaic code expressly denied such unqualified ownership
in land, and with the declaration, “the land also shall not be sold
forever, because it is mine, and you are strangers and sojourners with me,” provided
for its reversion every fiftieth year; thus, in a way adapted to the primitive
industrial conditions of the time, securing to all of the chosen people a
foothold in the soil.
Nowhere in fact throughout the Scriptures can the slightest justification
be found for the attaching to land of the same right of property that justly
attaches to the things produced by labor. Everywhere is it treated as the
free bounty of God, “the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”... read the whole letter
Henry George: Thy Kingdom Come
... The story goes on to
describe how the roads of heaven, the
streets of the New Jerusalem, were filled with disconsolate tramp
angels, who had pawned their wings, and were outcasts in Heaven
You laugh, and it is ridiculous.
But there is a moral in it that
is worth serious thought. Is it not ridiculous to imagine the
application to God’s heaven of the same rules of division that
we apply to God’s earth, even while we pray that His will may be
done on earth as it is done in Heaven?
Really, if we could imagine it,
it is impossible to think of
heaven treated as we treat this earth, without seeing that, no matter
how salubrious were its air, no matter how bright the light that
filled it, no matter how magnificent its vegetable growth, there
would be poverty, and suffering, and a division of classes in heaven
itself, if heaven were parcelled out as we have parceled out the
earth. And, conversely, if people were to act towards each other as
we must suppose the inhabitants of heaven to do, would not this earth
be a very heaven?
“Thy kingdom come.” No one can
think of the kingdom
for which the prayer asks without feeling that it must be a kingdom
of justice and equality — not necessarily of equality in
condition, but of equality in opportunity. And no one can think of it
without seeing that a very kingdom of God might be brought on this
earth if people would but seek to do justice — if people would
but acknowledge the essential principle of Christianity, that of
doing to others as we would have others do to us, and of recognising
that we are all here equally the children of the one Father, equally
entitled to share His bounty, equally entitled to live our lives and
develop our faculties, and to apply our labour to the raw material
that He has provided. ... Read the whole speech
Henry George: The
Land Question (1881)
What should be aimed at in the
settlement of the Irish Land
Question is thus very clear. The "three F's" are, what they have
already been called, three frauds; and the proposition to create
peasant proprietorship is no better.
* It will not do merely to carve out of the estates
of the landlords minor estates for the tenants;
* it will not do merely to substitute a larger for a
smaller class of proprietors;
* it will not do to confine the settlement to
agricultural land, leaving to its present possessors the land of the
towns and villages.
None of these lame and impotent conclusions will satisfy the demands of
justice or cure the bitter evils now so apparent. The only true and just solution of the
problem, the only end worth aiming at, is to make all the land the
common property of all the people.
This principle conceded, the
question of method arises. How shall
this be done? Nothing is easier. It is merely necessary to divert the
rent which now flows into the pockets of the landlords into the
common treasury of the whole people. It is not possible so to divide
up the land of Ireland as to give each family, still less each
individual, an equal share. And, even if that were possible, it would
not be possible to maintain equality, for old people are constantly
dying and new people constantly being born, while the relative value
of land is constantly changing. But it is possible to divide the rent
equally, or, what amounts to the same thing, to apply it to purposes
of common benefit. This is the way, and this is the only way, in
which absolute justice can be done. This is the way, and this is the
only way, in which the equal right of every man, woman, and child can
be acknowledged and secured. As Herbert Spencer says of it (in Social
Such a doctrine is consistent with
highest state of
civilization; may be carried out without involving a community of
goods, and need cause no very serious revolution in existing
arrangements. The change required would simply be a change of
landlords. Separate ownership would merge into the joint-stock
ownership of the public. Instead of being in the possession of
individuals, the country would be held by the great corporate
body – society. Instead of leasing his acres from an isolated
proprietor, the farmer would lease them from the nation. Instead of
paying his rent to the agent of Sir John or his Grace, he would pay
it to an agent or deputy agent of the community. Stewards would be
public officials instead of private ones, and tenancy the only land
tenure. A state of things so ordered would be in perfect harmony with
the moral law. Under it, all men would be equally landlords; all men
would be alike free to become tenants. . . . Clearly, therefore, on
such a system, the earth might be inclosed, occupied, and cultivated,
in entire subordination to the law of equal freedom.
Now, it is a very easy thing thus
to sweep away all private
ownership of land, and convert all occupiers into tenants of the
State, by appropriating rent. No complicated laws or cumbersome
machinery is necessary. It is necessary only to tax land up to its
full value. Do that, and without any talk about dispossessing
landlords, without any use of the ugly word "confiscation," without
any infringement of the just rights of property, the land would
become virtually the people's, while the landlords would be left the
absolute and unqualified possessors of – their deeds of title and
conveyance! They could continue to
call themselves landlords, if they
wished to, just as that poor old Bourbon, the Comte de Chambord,
continues to call himself King of France; but, as what, under this
system, was paid by the tenant would be taken by the State, it is
pretty clear that middlemen would not long survive, and that very
soon the occupiers of land would come to be nominally the owners,
though, in reality, they would be the tenants of the whole
How beautifully this simple method
would satisfy every economic
requirement; how, freeing labor and capital from the fetters that now
oppress them (for all other taxes could be easily remitted), it would
enormously increase the production of wealth; how it would make
distribution conform to the law of justice, dry up the springs of
want and misery, elevate society from its lowest stratum, and give
all their fair share in the blessings of advancing civilization, can
perhaps be fully shown only by such a detailed examination of the
whole social problem as I have made in a book (Progress and Poverty)
which I hope will he read by all the readers of this, since in it I
go over much ground and treat many subjects which cannot be even
touched upon here. Nevertheless,
any one can see that to tax land up
to its full rental value would amount to precisely the same thing as
formally to take possession of it, and then let it out to the highest
The way to make land common
property is simply to take
rent for the common benefit. And to do this, the easy way is to
abolish one tax after another, until the whole weight of taxation
falls upon the value of land. When that point is reached, the battle
is won. The hare is caught, killed, and skinned, and to cook him will
be a very easy matter. The real fight will come on the proposition to
consolidate existing taxation upon land values. When that is once
won, the landholders will not merely have been decisively defeated,
they will have been routed; and the nature of land values will be so
generally understood that to raise taxation so as to take the whole
rent for common purposes will be a mere matter of course. ... read the whole article
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George,
a themed collection of
excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
LABOR may be likened to a man who as he carries home his earnings is
waylaid by a series of robbers. One demands this much, and another that much,
but last of all stands one who demands all that is left, save just enough to
enable the victim to maintain life and come forth next day to work. So long
as this last robber remains, what will it benefit such a man to drive off any
or all of the other robbers?
Such is the situation of labor today throughout the civilized world. And the
robber that takes all that is left, is private property in land. Improvement,
no matter how great, and reform, no matter how beneficial in itself, cannot help
that class who, deprived of all right to the use of the material elements, have
only the power to labor — a power as useless in itself as a sail without
wind, a pump without water, or a saddle without a horse. — Protection
or Free Trade — Chapter 25: The Robber That Takes All That Is Left
- econlib | abridged
THERE is but one way to remove an evil — and that is, to remove its cause.
Poverty deepens as wealth increases, and wages are forced down while
productive power grows, because land, which is the source of all wealth and the
field of all labor, is monopolized. To extirpate poverty, to make wages
what justice commands they should be, the full earnings of the laborer, we must
substitute for the individual ownership of land a common ownership. Nothing else
will go to the cause of the evil — in nothing else is there the slightest
hope. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VI, Chapter 2, The Remedy: The True Remedy
... go to "Gems from George"
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894) — Appendix: FAQ
Q2. Would the single tax yield revenue sufficient for all kinds of government?
A. Thomas G. Shearman, Esq., of New York, estimates that sixty-five per cent
of the rent that the land in the United States now yields actually and
potentially to its owners, would be sufficient. But whether it would or
not is as yet an unimportant question. If all revenues ought to
be raised from land values, then no revenues should be drawn from other
any land value remains in private possession. Until land values are exhausted
the taxation of labor cannot be excused.
Q16. Should the whole rental value of land be taken for common use, or only
enough for government purposes?
A. Only enough for government purposes. When the people see that this method
of taxation improves business, increases wages, cheapens land, and generally
promotes prosperity, they will not hesitate to increase their taxes so long
as public improvements are needed and land values are unexhausted. As is
said in "Progress and Poverty" (book viii, ch. ii): "When
the common right to land is so far appreciated that all taxes are abolished
save those which fall upon rent, there is no danger of much more than is
necessary to induce them to collect the public revenues being left to individual
landholders." ... read the book
Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism
of Natural Taxation, from Principles of
Natural Taxation (1917)
Q5. What is meant by equal right to land?
A. The right of access upon equal terms -- preference to be secured only
upon payment of a premium that will extinguish the equal rights of all
Q6. What is meant by a joint or common right to land?
A. A joint or common right to the rent of land -- a right such as heirs-at-law
have to share the income of or rent of an estate.
Q9. Does not the single tax mean the nationalization of land?
A. No; as Henry George has said, "the primary error of the advocates of
land nationalization is in their confusion of equal rights with joint rights.
... In truth, the right to the use of land is not a joint or common right, but
an equal right; a joint or common right is to rent."* It means rather the
socialization of economic rent. It simply proposes gradually to divert an increasing
share of ground rent into the public treasury.
*A Perplexed Philosopher, Part III, Chapter XI: Compensation
Q11. Does not the common right to rent involve common ownership of land?
A. Not in the least. When the economic rent is appropriated by the community
for common purposes, individual ownership of land could and should continue.
Such ownership would carry all the present rights of the landowner to use,
control, and dispose of land, so that nothing like common ownership of land
would be necessary.
Q12. Did not Henry George believe in the abolition of private property
A. Assuredly not. If he did, why was it that he suggested no modification whatever
of present land tenure or "estate in land"? If he did, how could he
have said that the sole "sovereign" and sufficient remedy for the wrongs
of private property in land was "to appropriate rent by taxation"?
Q48. But would it not be an injustice to the landowner?
A. If it be an injustice to tax hard-earned incomes (wages) to maintain an unearned
income (net economic rent) that bears no tax burden, how can it be an injustice
to stop doing so? There can be no injustice in taking for the benefit of the
community the value that is created by the community.
... read the whole article
a synopsis of Robert V. Andelson and James M. Dawsey: From
Wasteland to Promised land:
Liberation Theology for a Post-Marxist World
Because George asserted, "We
must make land common property," he is sometimes erroneously regarded
as an advocate of land nationalization. But, as we have seen, he was
nothing of the sort. The expropriation of land makes it practically
impossible to fairly compensate people for the improvements to land,
which are their legitimate property. George's system renders to the
community what is due to the community, without doing any violence to
the wealth that has been fairly earned by productive workers.
Common property in land is sometimes discredited by equation
with what Garrett Hardin calls "The Tragedy of the Commons." Referring
to the common lands that were a major English institution until the
mid-nineteenth century, Hardin describes the tendency of individuals,
each rationally pursuing self-interest, to overgraze, denude, and use
the commons as a cesspool. That which belongs to everybody in this
sense is, indeed, in danger of being valued and maintained by nobody.
The enclosure movement ultimately brought an end to this
ecologically destructive process, but not without literally pushing
people off the land, exacting a baneful price in human misery that
might well be termed "The Tragedy of the Enclosures." George hit upon a
way of securing the benefits of both commons and enclosures, while at
the same time avoiding their evils. Land value taxation rectifies
distribution so that all receive wealth in proportion to their
contribution to its production. This liberates the economic system from
exploiters who contribute little or nothing. Apportioning the wealth
pie fairly increases the incentive to increase the size of the pie. The
market becomes in practice what capitalist theory alleges it to be -- a
profoundly cooperative process of voluntary exchange of goods and
services. Paradoxical though it may seem, the only way the individual
may be assured what properly belongs to him or her is for society to
take what properly belongs to it: The ideal of Jeffersonian
individualism requires for its actualization the socialization of rent.
Just as Marxists err in insisting that everything be socialized,
extreme capitalists err in insisting that everything (even public parks
and forests!) be privatized. The middle way is to recognize society's
claim to what nature and society create -- the value of land and its
rent -- so that working people, including entrepreneurs, may claim
their full share of what they create. In this balanced approach can be
found the authentic verities respectively inherent in socialism and
individualism. Read the whole synopsis
William F. Buckley, Jr.: Home
Henry George, the eminent social philosopher of a century ago, turned
the attention of planners and economists, however briefly, to the indefeasible
factor of land scarcity. Capital and labor can increase; land cannot.
Accordingly, George was the apostle of the single tax. It aimed most directly
at land speculators. His insights would focus now on the limitations on
the use of land imposed by zoning. If John Jones wants an acre protecting
his house, he is laying claim to something that cannot expand in size.
Since land, in George's analysis, is forever limited, it must be thought
of and treated as common property. And therefore the rental value of one
acre should constitute a tax (the single tax) on the person who sequesters
it for himself.
A strong case can be made for the amenities of zoning laws. But they have
an effect on the availability of housing, and on its cost. One result is
that housing costs are increasing faster than inflation.
But is the Henry George factor likely to be espoused in political platforms?
It cannot happen soon because too many interests are vested in zoning laws.
But sharp political eyes should be trained on the question, in search of
a viable formulation designed to fight against homelessness for grandchildren
who cannot be expected to pay the projected cost of housing. ... read
the whole column
Clarence Darrow: The Land Belongs
To The People (1916)
This earth is a little raft moving in the endless sea of space, and the
mass of its human inhabitants are hanging on as best they can. It is
as if some raft filled with shipwrecked sailors should be floating on the
and a few of the strongest and most powerful would take all the raft
they could get and leave the most of the people, especially the ones who
work, hanging to the edges by their eyebrows. These men who have taken
possession of this raft, this little planet in this endless space, are
not even content
with taking all there is and leaving the rest barely enough to hold onto,
but they think so much of themselves and their brief day that while they
live they must make rules and laws and regulations that parcel out the
earth for thousands of years after they are dead and, gone, so that their
and others of their kind may do in the tenth generation exactly what
they are doing today — keeping the earth and all the good things
of the earth and compelling the great mass of mankind to toil for them.
Now, the question is, how are you going to get it back? Everybody who
thinks knows that private ownership of the land is wrong. If ten thousand
own America, then one man can own it, and if one man may own it he may
take all that the rest produce or he may kill them if he sees fit. It is
with the spirit of manhood. No person who thinks can doubt but that he
was born upon this planet with the same birthright that came to every man
like him. And it is for him to defend that birthright. And the man who
will not defend it, whatever the cost, is fitted only to be a slave. The
belongs to the people — if they can get it — because if you
cannot get it, it makes no difference whether you have a right to it
or not, and
if you can get it, it makes no difference whether you have a right to
it or not, you just take it. The earth has been taken from the many by
It made no difference that they had no right to it; they took it.
Now, there are some methods of getting access to the earth which are easier
than others. The easiest, perhaps, that has been contrived is by means of
taxation of the land values and land values alone; and I need only say a
little upon that question. One trouble with it which makes it almost impossible
to achieve, is that it is so simple and so easy. You cannot get people to
do anything that is simple; they want it complex so they can be fooled.
Now the theory of Henry George and of those who really believe in the
common ownership of land is that the public should take not alone taxation
the land, but the public should take to itself the whole value of the
land that has been created by the public — should take it all. It should
be a part of the public wealth, should be used for public improvements, for
pensions, and belong to the people who create the wealth — which is
a strange doctrine in these strange times. It can be done simply and easily;
it can be done by taxation. All the wealth created by the public could be
taken back by the public and then poverty would disappear, most of it at
least. The method is so simple, and so legal even — sometimes a thing
is legal if it is simple — that it is the easiest substantial reform
for men to accomplish, and when it is done this great problem of poverty,
the problem of the ages, will be almost solved. We may need go farther.
the whole article
James Kiefer: James Huntington and
the ideas of Henry George
Henry George, author of Progress and Poverty,
argued that, while some forms of wealth are produced by human activity,
and are rightly the property of the producers (or those who have obtained
them from the previous owners by voluntary gift or exchange), land and
natural resources are bestowed by God on the human race, and that every
one of the N inhabitants of the earth has a claim to 1/Nth of the coal
beds, 1/Nth of the oil wells, 1/Nth of the mines, and 1/Nth of the fertile
soil. God wills a society where everyone may sit in peace under his own
vine and his own fig tree.
The Law of Moses undertook to implement this by making the ownership of
land hereditary, with a man's land divided among his sons (or, in the absence
of sons, his daughters), and prohibiting the permanent sale of land. (See
Leviticus 25:13-17,23.) The most a man might do with his land is sell the
use of it until the next Jubilee year, an amnesty declared once every fifty
years, when all debts were cancelled and all land returned to its hereditary
Henry George's proposed implementation is to tax all land at about 99.99%
of its rental value, leaving the owner of record enough to cover his bookkeeping
expenses. The resulting revenues would be divided equally among the natural
owners of the land, viz. the people of the country, with everyone receiving
a dividend check regularly for the use of his share of the earth (here
I am anticipating what I think George would have suggested if he had written
in the 1990's rather than the 1870's).
This procedure would have the effect of making the sale price of a piece
of land, not including the price of buildings and other improvements on
it, practically zero. The cost of being a landholder would be, not the
original sale price, but the tax, equivalent to rent. A man who chose to
hold his "fair share," or 1/Nth of all the land, would pay a
land tax about equal to his dividend check, and so would break even. By
1/Nth of the land is meant land with a value equal to 1/Nth of the value
of all the land in the country.
Naturally, an acre in the business district of a great city would be worth
as much as many square miles in the open country. Some would prefer to
hold more than one N'th of the land and pay for the privilege. Some would
prefer to hold less land, or no land at all, and get a small annual check
representing the dividend on their inheritance from their father Adam.
Note that, at least for the able-bodied, this solves the problem of poverty
at a stroke. If the total land and total labor of the world are enough
to feed and clothe the existing population, then 1/Nth of the land and
1/Nth of the labor are enough to feed and clothe 1/Nth of the population.
A family of 4 occupying 4/Nths of the land (which is what their dividend
checks will enable them to pay the tax on) will find that their labor applied
to that land is enough to enable them to feed and clothe themselves. Of
course, they may prefer to apply their labor elsewhere more profitably,
but the situation from which we start is one in which everyone has his
own plot of ground from which to wrest a living by the strength of his
own back, and any deviation from this is the result of voluntary exchanges
agreed to by the parties directly involved, who judge themselves to be
better off as the result of the exchanges.
Some readers may think this a very radical proposal. In fact, it is extremely
conservative, in the sense of being in agreement with historic ideas about
land ownership as opposed to ownership of, say, tools or vehicles or gold
or domestic animals or other movables. The laws of English-speaking countries
uniformly distinguish between real property (land) and personal property
(everything else). In this context, "real" is not the opposite
of "imaginary." It is a form of the word "royal," and
means that the ultimate owner of the land is the king, as symbol of the
people. Note that English-derived law does not recognize "landowners." The
term is "landholders." The concept of eminent domain is that
the landholder may be forced to surrender his landholdings to the government
for a public purpose. Historically, eminent domain does not apply to property
other than land, although complications arise when there are buildings
on the land that is being seized.
I will mention in passing that the proposals of Henry George have attracted
support from persons as diverse as Felix Morley, Aldous
Huxley, Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, Winston
Churchill, Leo Tolstoy, William
F Buckley Jr, and Sun Yat-sen. To the Five Nobel Prizes authorized
by Alfred Nobel himself there has been added a sixth, in Economics, and
the Henry George Foundation claims eight
of the Economics Laureates as supporters, in whole or in part, of the
proposals of Henry George (Paul Samuelson, 1970; Milton
Friedman, 1976; Herbert A Simon, 1978; James Tobin, 1981; Franco Modigliani,
1985; James M Buchanan, 1986; Robert M Solow, 1987; William
S Vickrey, 1996).
The immediate concrete proposal favored by most Georgists today is that
cities shall tax land within their boundaries at a higher rate than they
tax buildings and other improvements on the land. (In case anyone is about
to ask, "How can we possibly distinguish between the value of the
land and the value of the buildings on it?" let me assure you that
real estate assessors do it all the time. It is standard practice to make
the two assessments separately, and a parcel of land in the business district
of a large city very often has a different owner from the building on it.)
Many cities have moved to a system of taxing land more heavily than improvements,
and most have been pleased with the results, finding that landholders are
more likely to use their land productively -- to their own benefit and
that of the public -- if their taxes do not automatically go up when they
improve their land by constructing or maintaining buildings on it.
An advantage of this proposal in the eyes of many is that it is a Fabian
proposal, "evolution, not revolution," that it is incremental
and reversible. If a city or other jurisdiction does not like the results
of a two-level tax system, it can repeal the arrangement or reduce the
difference in levels with no great upheaval. It is not like some other
proposals of the form, "Distribute all wealth justly, and make me
absolute dictator of the world so that I can supervise the distribution,
and if it doesn't work, I promise to resign." The problem is that
absolute dictators seldom resign. ... read
the whole article
Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)
Every community, whatever its political name and extent -- village, city,
state or province or nation -- has its own normal, unfailing income, growing
with the growth of the community and always adequate to meet necessary governmental
To explain: Every community has an indefeasible original right to the land
on which it exists, and to all the natural, unmodified properties and advantages
of that particular area of the earth's surface. To this land in its natural
state, undrained, unfenced, unfertilized, unplanted and unoccupied, including
its waters, its contents and its location, every individual in the community
(which may consist of any political unit selected) has an equal right, while
all the individuals together have a joint right to the value for use which
society has conferred upon these natural advantages.
This value for use is known as "Land Value," or by the not particularly
descriptive but generally adopted name of "Economic Rent."
Briefly defined the land value or economic rent of any piece of ground is
the largest annual amount voluntarily offered for the exclusive use of that
ground, or of an equivalent parcel, independent of improvements thereon.
Every holder or user of land pays economic rent, but he now pays most of
it to the wrong party. The aggregate economic rent of the territory occupied
by any political unit is, as has been stated above, always sufficient, usually
more than sufficient, for the legitimate expenses of the government of that
unit. As also stated above, the economic rent belongs to the community, and
not to individual landowners. ...
Let us roughly restate the proposition: All members of the community having
a joint right to the income which the social advantages of the land will
command, they are all partners in this income.
Therefore, when one of their number wishes to take for his private use a
parcel of this land, he should buy out his partners, i.e., the rest of the
community, by paying regularly into the common treasury the economic rent
of that parcel, instead of paying, as at present, the purchase price, i.e.,
the right to collect the economic rent, in a lump, to some other individual
who has no more original right to it than himself. ...
Again, while it must be firmly insisted that the economic rent is the rightful
property of the community and not of the landowner, the community would probably
never take it all. Communal ownership of land is not desirable, even if it
were practicable. Individual ownership and management are best, and it is
not at all improper for the community to allow the owner something for caring
for the land to which he holds title, and for collecting and transmitting
to the treasury the economic rent. ... read the whole article
Alanna Hartzok: Citizen Dividends and Oil Resource Rents
Citizens of Alaska have been receiving individual dividend checks from
an oil rent trust fund since 1982. Norway's citizens receive substantial
services and invest oil rents in a permanent fund for the future. Nigeria
has yet to establish a similar fund for its oil revenue stream. This
paper explores the oil rent institutions of Alaska, Norway and Nigeria
with a focus
on these questions:
- Are citizen dividends from oil rent funds currently or potentially
a source of substantial basic income?
- Are oil rent funds the best source for citizen dividends or should
CDs be based on other types of resource rents?
The paper recommends full use of information and communication technologies
for transparency in extractive resource industries, that resource rent from
non-renewable resources should be invested in socially and environmentally
responsible ways and primarily in the needed transition to renewable energy
based economies, and that oil and other non-renewable resource rent funds should
transition towards capturing substantial resource rents from surface land site
values (ground rent) and other permanent and sustainable sources of rent for
possible distribution of citizen dividends.
read the whole article
Nic Tideman: Market-Based Systems
for Assigning Rental Value to Land
The question at issue can thus be restated as, "What process can be used
to determine the rental value of land, one year at a time, in such a way
that the full rent of land is collected, while at the same time insuring
that entrepreneurs are not required to pay extra amounts by virtue of having
made durable improvements to land?" ... read the whole article
Nic Tideman: Private Possession
as an Alternative to Rental and Private Ownership for Agricultural Land
One of the reasons that the debate is so fierce between the advocates of
rental and the advocates of private ownership of agricultural land is that
each position has important strengths as well as important weaknesses. This
paper argues that there is a third possibility between rental and private
ownership that retains the strengths of both while avoiding the weaknesses
of both. The third
possibility is private possession of land.
I. The Concept of Private
Possession of Land
Like private ownership, a system of private possession of land involves
titles to land that have no termination date and are freely transferable.
Therefore the possessor of land can be confident of receiving the full
benefit of any improvements that are made to land. Like rental, a system
possession of land involves an obligation to make regular payments to
the government for the use of land. However, the payment is not for the
rental value of land, but only for the rental value that land would have
in an unimproved condition. This collection by the government of the
value that is provided by nature and location gives recognition to the
land is the common heritage of all generations, and should be available
to all generations on the same terms. It insures that prices for titles
will correspond only to the cost of improvements, and will therefore
not be excessive. It eliminates the profit from land speculation. And it
a continuing source of government revenue. ... read the whole article
Nic Tideman: Revenue Sharing
under Land Value Taxation
The proposition that the rental value of land should be collected by governments
and used for public purposes has a powerful moral rationale: Since no one
made the land, no one can properly claim to own it. There is a simple efficiency
rationale as well: Social collection of the rental value of land does not
interfere with incentives to be productive. If governments do not collect
the rental value of land, then they will levy taxes that discourage productive
activity. ... read the whole article
Nic Tideman: The Case for Site Value Rating
Both for reasons of social justice and for reasons of economic efficiency,
site value rating deserves a continued place in the programme of the Liberal
The case for site value rating in terms of social justice is founded on
two understandings: first, that the value of land in the absence of economic
development is the common heritage of humanity, and second, that increases
in the rental value of land arising from economic development and government
expenditures should be collected by governments to finance those activities.
What is meant by "land" is the unimproved value of sites and the value
of extractable natural resources such as North Sea oil.
While there may someday be institutions capable of implementing a recognition
of land as the heritage of all humanity on a worldwide basis, in the absence
of such institutions each nation should implement a recognition that land
within its boundaries is the common heritage of its citizens. This is accomplished
not by making the nation a gigantic Common or by instituting government management
of all land, but rather by requiring all persons and corporations that are
granted the use of land to pay a fee or tax equal to what the rental value
of the land they control would be if it were in an unimproved condition.
... read the whole article
Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)
Every community has an indefeasible original right to the land on which
it exists, and to all the natural, unmodified properties and advantages
of that particular area of the earth's surface. To this land in its natural
state, undrained, unfenced, unfertilized, unplanted and unoccupied, including
its waters, its contents and its location, every individual in the community
(which may consist of any political unit selected) has an equal right,
while all the individuals together have a joint right to the value for
use which society has conferred upon these natural advantages.
This value for use is known as "Land Value," or by the not particularly
descriptive but generally adopted name of "Economic Rent."
Briefly defined the land value or economic rent of any piece of ground
is the largest annual amount voluntarily offered for the exclusive use
of that ground, or of an equivalent parcel, independent of improvements
thereon. Every holder or user of land pays economic rent, but he now pays
most of it to the wrong party. The aggregate economic rent of the territory
occupied by any political unit is, as has been stated above, always sufficient,
usually more than sufficient, for the legitimate expenses of the government
of that unit. As also stated above, the economic rent belongs to the community,
and not to individual landowners.
On the other hand, the result of every utilization or enhancement of the
natural advantages of land (such as farm profits, the rent and selling
value of buildings and other improvements), when accomplished by an individual,
belongs wholly to that individual, and should never, and need never, be
taken from him by taxation.
One must be careful not to confuse land-value with the price of land.
The price of land is the sum demanded for the transference from one individual
to another of the privilege to collect and retain land-value and thus to
divert public earnings to private pockets.
Under the normal system which this article advocates, the user of land
would pay substantially the same economic rent as now, for the reason that
economic rent is fixed by the payer and not by the payee; but it would
be paid to the credit of the community instead of for the benefit of the
individual landowner. And the economic rent is all the land user would
have to pay; no taxes on industry or personal product and no other forced
contribution for governmental purposes.
It follows that, under the normal system, the holder of unimproved land
would usually contribute more than at present toward the expenses of government,
while the holder of well improved property would contribute, in most instances,
less than the total of his present taxes.
To illustrate simply, let us suppose a state which has never parted with
its natural income but is supported by its own economic rent. ...
But before this time the reader, unless he has given previous attention
to the subject, is full of objections to the above doctrine: "How
about the law?" he is asking. "Hasn't a man the right to buy
a piece of land as cheaply as he can, to do what he pleases with it, and
hold on to it till he gets ready to sell?" The answer is that
at present he certainly has this statutory right, which has been so
long and so universally
recognized that most people suppose it to be not only a legal, but
a real or equitable right. A shrewd man, foreseeing the direction of
population in a city, for example, can buy a well-located block at
a moderate figure from some less far-seeing owner, can let it grow
up to weeds, fence
it off against all comers and give it no further attention except to
pay the very small tax usually imposed upon vacant land.
Meantime the increasing community builds up all around it with homes,
banks, stores, churches, schools, paving and lighting the streets, giving
police and fire protection, etc., and at last comes to need this block
so urgently that the owner is fairly begged to sell it, at three or ten
or fifty times what it cost him. Quite often the purchaser at this enormous
advance is the very community which has through its presence and the expenditure
of its taxes created practically the whole value of the land in question!
It was said above that an individual has a statutory right to pursue this
very common course. That was an error. The statement should have been that
he has a statutory wrong; for no disinterested person can follow the course
of land speculation as almost universally practiced, without feeling its
How did so evident a wrong become so firmly established? ...
The landlords, being also the lawmakers, have seen to it that their tenure
of this easy money should not be disturbed, but on the contrary have so
buttressed it with centuries of legislation, precedents, and judicial decisions,
that any proposition to hark back to the terms of the original bargain,
whereby the owners of the land agreed to pay the expenses of the government,
is now denounced as anarchy and sacrilege.
Lapse of time, however, never can transform wrong into right, nor can a
buyer acquire any better title than the seller possessed. The economic
rent belongs to the community, which can and will begin to reclaim it
as soon as the voters thoroughly awake to the facts and the right and
wrong of the matter, which are not hard to grasp when the subject is
presented in its simplest form.
An illustration has already been given of the case of a piece of farm
land. Let us take an example in a large city. Let us take a corner lot
centrally located in New York City, the title to which lot is held by,
say, Mr. John William Rhinelastor. This lot was a part of an old Dutch
farm, and is an heirloom. It did not cost the present owner anything, nor
his father nor his grandfather. There is a little old building on it, which
has always been rented at a figure ten times as large as the taxes imposed,
so that the owner has been handsomely subsidized each year for storing
his title-deeds during a period of the city's growth in which the increase
in population and the expenditure of public money in that neighborhood
have raised the value of this corner location to, say, two hundred times
its early value. ...
Clearly it is paid for a location or site value, which the community,
and the community only, has built up and paid for. In other words, the
present $20,000 rental, and the larger one which that location will command
in later years, is strictly a community product, and as such belongs to
the community and not to Mr. Rhinelastor.
That the latter has no good right to it is at once evident when we remember
that "When one man gets something for nothing somebody else has got
to give something for nothing." Here are $20,000 that some men
and women have got to work to earn every year to hand over to a man
not render, and does not feel any obligation to render, one dollar's
worth of public or private service in return. Such is the wild travesty
which we call law. It is not comical only because it is frankly tragic
in its social results.
Now suppose this $20,000 and all the rest of this same community product — i.e.,
the site or location rent of its ground — were paid every year
to its rightful owner, the treasurer of New York City, what would become
taxation, with its inseparable retinue, Fraud, Evasion, Perjury, Inequality,
and an all-pervading public sense of injustice?
An authority on municipal taxation estimates the present economic rent
of the land embraced in the City of New York at from $350,000,000 to $400,000,000.
Assuming the lesser of these figures and adding the receipts from licenses,
fees and fines, New York City should receive, of her own income, enough
to pay all her own legitimate bills, to make her proper contributions to
county and state and build a new subway or its equivalent every year. ...
But again the voice of the objector is heard, possibly to this effect: "This
plan may be all right for the community, but how about poor Mr. Rhinelastor?"
In reality the landowner would not suffer so much from the restoration
of the public revenue as might at first appear. For one thing, whereas
he is now taxed, at least in theory, not only on land, but on buildings,
cash, bonds, and all other personal property, and perhaps on his income
as well, he would then have no taxes at all to pay. Furthermore the economic
rent is not the full measure of the possible earning capacity of the land,
but will always be less than the offerer expects to make out of its use.
Again, while it must be firmly insisted that the economic rent
is the rightful property of the community and not of the landowner, the
would probably never take it all. Communal ownership of land is not desirable,
even if it were practicable. Individual ownership and management are best,
and it is not at all improper for the community to allow the owner something
for caring for the land to which he holds title, and for collecting and
transmitting to the treasury the economic rent. ... read
the whole article
Frank Stilwell and Kirrily Jordan: The
Political Economy of Land: Putting Henry George in His Place
George saw land as a community resource provided by nature, to which
every human being had an equal right. He argued that, since land was
fixed in supply, the system of private land ownership allowed the wealthy
few to enjoy exclusive rights to land and its benefits, while alienating
the poorer majority from land ownership and forcing them to pay rent
to landowners in order to access this necessary resource. Moreover, the
collection of rents by landowners allowed them to increase their wealth
without contributing to the productive efforts of society. As the population
grew, so too did the demand for land, forcing rents and land values ever
higher. In addition, increases in land value resulting from publicly-funded
developments, such as roads and public transport systems, unduly benefited
landowners at the expense of the community. Such unearned gains from
landownership encouraged speculation in land, pushing prices even higher,
while exposing the economy to the risks of speculative ‘booms’ and ‘busts’. ...
Georgism has a distinctive ethical basis. So a review of the contemporary
relevance of Georgist political economy can usefully begin by making
this explicit. The key moral issue is the private appropriation of public
wealth. As George recognised, land is a ‘gift from nature’ and,
as such, is rightfully a community resource. Hence, those deriving benefits
from the private ownership of land should recompense the community for
the privilege. This principle has strong echoes of the idea of ‘usufruct’,
a pre-capitalist term denoting a person’s legal right to use and
accrue benefits from property that does not belong to them. In return,
the user is obliged to keep the property in good repair and pay all costs
as a ‘ground rent’ (‘Lectric Law Library, n.d). The
concept of ‘usufruct’ has fallen out of common usage, so
one hesitates to try to revive it. Moreover, as Richards (2002) notes, ‘it
is difficult to image how this word could be employed, or brought back
into circulation, in the modern world, since we live in a world in which
people tend to be remarkably unsympathetic to the property rights or
claims of others’.
However, the principle of ‘usufruct’ goes to the heart of
the question of how best to balance collective and individual rights
and interests. George’s solution of a tax on the value of land
squarely addresses this issue. By returning a proportion of the land
value to the community in the form of taxation revenue, restitution would
be paid for the use of a community resource. This is an ethical justification
for land taxation. ... read the
Bill Batt: Comment on Parts
of the NYS Legislative Tax Study Commission's 1985 study “Who Pays
New York Taxes?”
The question still begs to be answered, “why tax land?” And
what happens when we don’t tax land? Henry George answered this
more than a century ago more forcefully and clearly, perhaps, than anyone
has since. He recognized full well that the economic surplus not expended
by human hands or minds in the production of capital wealth gravitates
to land. Particular land sites come to reflect the value of their strategic
location for market exchanges by assuming a price for their monopoly
use. Regardless whether those who acquire title to such sites use them
to the full extent of their potential, the flow of rent to such locations
is commensurate with their full capacity. This is why John Stuart Mill
more than a century ago observed that, “Landlords grow richer in
their sleep without working, risking or economizing. The increase in
the value of land, arising as it does from the efforts of an entire community,
should belong to the community and not to the individual who might hold
title.”33 Absent its recovery by taxation this rent becomes a “free
lunch” to opportunistically situated titleholders. When offered
for sale, the projected rental value is capitalized in the present value
for purposes of attaching a market price and sold as a commodity. Yet
simple justice calls for the recovery in taxes what is the community’s
creation. Moreover, the failure to recover the land rent connected to
sites makes it necessary to tax productive activities in our economy,
and this leads to economic and technical inefficiency known as “deadweight
loss.”34 It means that the economy performs suboptimally.
Land, and by this Henry George meant any natural factor of production
not created by human hands or minds, is ours only to use, not to buy
or sell as a commodity. In the equally immortal words of Jefferson a
century earlier, “The earth belongs in usufruct to the living;
. . . [It is] given as a common stock for men to labor and live on.”35
This passage likely needs a bit of parsing for the modern reader. The
word usufruct, understood since Roman times, has almost passed from use
today. It means “the right to use the property of another so long
as its value is not diminished.”36 Note also that Jefferson
regarded the earth as a “common stock;” not allotted to individuals
with possessory titles. Only the phrase “to the living” might
be subject to challenge by forward-looking environmentalists who, taking
an idea from Native American cultures, argue that “we do not inherit
the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” The
presumption that real property titles are acquired legitimately is a
claim that does not withstand scrutiny; rather all such titles owe their
origin ultimately to force or fraud.37
If we own the land sites that we occupy only in usufruct, and
the rent that derives from those sites is due to community enterprise,
it is not
a large logical leap to argue that the community’s recovery of
that rent should be the proper source of taxation. This is the Georgist
argument: that the recapture of land rent is the proper – indeed
the natural – source of taxation.38 ... read the whole commentary