Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
Home Essential Documents Themes All Documents Authors Glossary Links Contact Us


John Stuart Mill

The ordinary progress of a society which increases in wealth, is at all times tending to augment the incomes of landlords; to give them both a greater amount and a greater proportion of the wealth of the community, independently of any trouble or outlay incurred by themselves. They grow richer, as it were in their sleep, without working, risking, or economizing. What claim have they, on the general principle of social justice, to this accession of riches? In what would they have been wronged if society had, from the beginning, reserved the right of taxing the spontaneous increase of rent, to the highest amount required by financial exigencies?
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), in Principles of Political Economy
with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy
, 1848.
found in Book V, Chapter II: On the General Principles of Taxation

"Lord, enlighten thou our enemies. Sharpen their wits, give acuteness to their perceptions, and consecutiveness and clearness to their reasoning powers: we are in danger from their folly, not from their wisdom; their weakness is what fills us with apprehension, not their strength."

— John Stuart Mill, "Essay on Coleridge"

Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)

GREAT as John Stuart Mill was and pure as he was — warm heart and noble mind — he yet never saw the true harmony of economic laws, nor realized how from this one great fundamental wrong flow want and misery, and vice and shame. Else he could never have written this sentence: "The land of Ireland, the land of every country, belongs to the people of that country. The individuals called landowners have no right in morality and justice to anything but the rent, or compensation for its salable value."

In the name of the Prophet — figs! If the land of any country belong to the people of that country, what right, in morality and justice, have the individuals called landowners to the rent? If the land belong to the people, why in the name of morality and justice should the people pay its salable value for their own?

Herbert Spencer says: "Had we to deal with the parties who originally robbed the human race of its heritage, we might make short work of the matter?" Why not make short work of the matter anyhow? For this robbery is not like the robbery of a horse or a sum of money, that ceases with the act. It is a fresh and continuous robbery, that goes on every day and every hour. It is not from the produce of the past that rent is drawn; it is from the produce of the present. It is a toll levied upon labor constantly and continuously. Every blow of the hammer, every stroke of the pick, every thrust of the shuttle, every throb of the steam engine pay it tribute. It levies upon the earnings of the men who, deep underground, risk their lives, and of those who over white surges hang to reeling masts; it claims the just reward of the capitalist and the fruits of the inventor's patient effort; it takes little children from play and from school, and compels them to work before their bones are hard or their muscles are firm; it robs the shivering of warmth; the hungry, of food; the sick, of medicine; the anxious, of peace. It debases, and embrutes, and embitters. — Progress & Poverty — Book VII, Chapter 3, Justice of the Remedy: Claim of Landowners to Compensation

THE common law we are told is the perfection of reason, and certainly the landowners cannot complain of its decision, for it has been built up by and for landowners. Now what does the law allow to the innocent possessor when the land for which he paid his money is adjudged to rightfully belong to another? Nothing at all. That he purchased in good faith gives him no right or claim whatever. The law does not concern itself with the "intricate question of compensation" to the innocent purchaser. The law does not say, as John Stuart Mill says: "The land belongs to A, therefore B who has thought himself the owner has no right to anything but the rent, or compensation for its salable value." For that would be indeed like a famous fugitive slave case decision in which the Court was said to have given the law to the North and the nigger to the South. The law simply says: "The land belongs to A, let the Sheriff put him in possession! " — Progress & Poverty — Book VII, Chapter 3, Justice of the Remedy: Claim of Landowners to Compensation

COMPENSATED for what? For giving up what has been unjustly taken? The demand of land-owners for compensation is not that. We do not seek to spoil the Egyptians. We do not ask that what has been unjustly taken from laborers shall be restored. We are willing that bygones should be bygones, and to leave dead wrongs to bury their dead. We propose to let those who, by the past appropriation of land-value, have taken the fruits of labor, retain what they have thus got. We merely propose that for the future such robbery of labor shall cease. — NOW, is the State called on to compensate men for the failure of their expectations as to its action, even where no moral element is involved? If it make peace, must it compensate those who have invested on the expectation of war. If it open a shorter highway, is it morally bound to compensate those who may lose by the diversion of travel from the old one? If it promote the discovery of a cheap means of producing electricity directly from heat, is it morally bound to compensate the owners of all the steam engines thereby thrown out of use and all who are engaged in making them? If it develop the air-ship, must it compensate those whose business would be injured? Such a contention would be absurd. — The Condition of Labor

Yet the contention we are considering is worse. It is that the State must compensate for disappointing the expectations of those who have counted on its continuing to do wrong. — A Perplexed Philosopher (Compensation)

COMPENSATION implies equivalence. To compensate for the discontinuance of a wrong is to give those who profit by the wrong the pecuniary equivalent of its continuance. Now the State has nothing that does not belong to the individuals who compose it. What it gives to some it must take from others. Abolition with compensation is therefore not really abolition, but continuance under a different form — on one side of unjust deprivation, and on the other side of unjust appropriation. — A Perplexed Philosopher (Compensation) ... go to "Gems from George"

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

Quite as fallacious is the idea that all property should be equally taxed, because equally protected. The fact is that all property is not equally protected, cannot be equally protected, and ought not to be equally protected, if by protection anything more is meant than the mere preservation of the peace. The protection of property is not the end, it is only one of the incidents, of government. As John Stuart Mill says: "The ends of government are as comprehensive as those of the social union. They consist of all the good and all the immunity from evil which the existence of government can be made, either directly or indirectly, to bestow." And to say that government should impartially protect and equally tax all property, is like saying that the farmer should bestow the same care upon everything he may find growing in his fields, whether weeds or grain. ... read the whole article
Ricardo believed that ground rents and the value of land have a tendency to rise continuously and that this benefits solely the landowners. The progress of industrialization and urbanization in the second half of the 19th century resulted in a rapid increase in the value of urban land and the owners of such land reaped tremendous profits. This led John Stuart Mill to observe, that "Only the landowners grow richer, as it were in their sleep without working, risking and economizing". He called for the taxation of land in order to recapture the unearned increment accruing to the land owners.

The apostle of land taxation is Henry George. In his famous book Progress and Poverty he develops his single tax theory. He tries to show that poverty and unemployment and other evils are caused by the land monopolists. Henry George's theory is similar to that developed by John Stuart Mill. Land values are based on ground rents which are created by the community and not by the land owners. Therefore the community is justified in recapturing these rents by a single tax on land. ...

If John Stuart Mill or Henry George would be alive today, they would be disappointed that the taxation of the unearned increment in land values has not made more progress. They would be surprised that the rise in urban land values has not been as steep as they had expected. Yet the universal use of automobiles has in an unforeseeable way multiplied the land available for residential use. It has made possible the exodus of a large pan of the middle class out of our towns into suburban areas. Thus the invention of the automobile has upset the dire predictions and expectations of the economists who advocated the taxation of land. Read the whole article
The Most Rev. Dr Thomas Nulty, Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath (Ireland): Back to the Land (1881) 
... Mr. Mill, in his great work on Political Economy, after having accepted the universally received definition of property exactly as I have given it, says: "The essential principle of property being to assure to all persons what they have produced by their labour and accumulated by their abstinence, this principle cannot apply to what is not the produce of labour, the raw material of the earth." And again: "When the sacredness of property is talked of, it should always be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property. No man made the land: it is the inheritance of the whole species."

In the remainder of this chapter Mr. Mill lectures the proprietors of land on their obligations and responsibilities to society in the management of it, and consequently he must be addressing himself to owners who have only the right of usufruct in their lands. Such admonitions, if addressed to men who had an absolute right of private property in land, would be simply an impertinence, as they would not be obliged to account to him or to anyone else for "what they did with their own." Further on Mr. Mill adds: "Those who think that the land of a country exists for the sake of a few thousand landowners, and that as long as rents are paid society and government have fulfilled their function, may see in this consummation a happy end to Irish difficulties. But this is not a time, nor is the human mind now in a condition in which such insolent pretensions can be maintained. The land of Ireland, the land of every country, belongs to the people of that country." ...

The Landlord the Greatest Burden on the Land.
The land is a commodity that strictly belongs to this class. It is limited in extent, and no human power can enlarge or extend its area. The competition for it is excessive, the competitors struggling for its attainment -- not for the purpose of satisfying a taste for the fine arts, or to gratify a passion for the rare or beautiful, but to secure a necessary means of existence: for they must live on and by the land, or they cannot live at all. The owner, therefore, of that land can put on it any rent he pleases, and the poor people competing for it have no choice but to accept his terms or die in a ditch or a poorhouse. Under the present system of Land Tenure, the owners are not only enabled, but actually exact for the use of the land the last shilling the tenant is able to pay, leaving him only what is barely sufficient to keep him from dying.

Mr. Mill, who is the highest of all authorities on this subject, thus writes on the letting of land as it is actually carried out in Ireland: "With individual exceptions (some of them very honourable ones) the owners of Irish estates do nothing for the land but drain it of its produce. What has been epigrammatically said in the discussions on 'peculiar burdens' is literally true when applied to them, that the greatest 'burden' on the land is the landlords. Returning nothing to the soil, they consume its whole produce, minus the potatoes strictly necessary to keep the inhabitants from dying of famine."  Read the whole letter

Dan Sullivan: Are you a Real Libertarian, or a ROYAL Libertarian?
Classical liberals recognized that exclusive access to land, and especially to more land than one was using, was a privilege that should be paid for, thereby eliminating the need for taxes. It is not a fee for using land, but a fee for the state privilege of denying use of that land to everyone else.
Men did not make the earth.... It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.... Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds. --Tom Paine, "Agrarian Justice," paragraphs 11 to 15
Another means of silently lessening the inequality of [landed] property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise.
--Thomas Jefferson

Today's land value tax advocates consider graduated land value tax to be unnecessary and problematic, leading to artificial subdivision (and phony subdivision) of land. The point is that Jefferson, to whom libertarians pay homage, considered land monopoly a great evil and land value tax a remedy, as did many other classical liberals:

Ground rents are a species of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own. Ground rents are, therefore, perhaps a species of revenue which can best bear to have a peculiar tax imposed upon them. --Adam Smith

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. --John Stuart Mill ... Read the whole piece

Bill Batt: The Nexus of Transportation, Economic Rent, and Land Use

What is Land Rent?
John Houseman, an actor perhaps most widely known as Professor Kingsfield in the long-running TV series, The Paper Chase, later became the pitchman for Smith Barney. In that advertisement, his tag line was "We make money the old-fashioned way -- we earn it."

That we should earn our money rather than live off the efforts of others seems a simple enough moral tenet. But it seems to have lost its cogency in contemporary economic thought. More than a century ago John Stuart Mill noted 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.(1)

Today, on the other hand, the unearned surplus which classical economists called rent attaches to monopoly titles -- largely the scarce goods and services of nature like locational sites, and has totally disappeared from economic calculus. Yet this is the primary vehicle by which wealth is captured by economic elites. If government recaptured the socially-created economic rent from land sites that comes from the investment of the collective community, we could eliminate other taxes that are both more onerous and create a drag on the economy that makes us all poorer. There are many websites that explain how this can be done, ways that not only beget greater economic efficiency but also bring about economic justice.(2) The surplus economic rent that derives from community effort is its rightful entitlement.

Where does economic rent most tend to lodge? In the center of cities where people are. And also proximate to heavy social investments -- such as railroad and metro stations, public and office buildings, hotels and conference centers, and anywhere there is high traffic in personal or market exchanges. The land value in New York City is higher than all the rest of the New York state combined, even though it is only a minute fraction of the area. One 9-acre site south of the United Nations Building was recently sold to a developer intent on building luxury condominiums facing the East River. That site sold for $680 million, and would have been higher had the existing structure, an obsolete power plant, not have to be razed.(3) Land values in any given area tend to rise and fall together, and tend also to form a contour somewhat comparable to a topographical survey map. In a city's center are the highest value locations, analogous to a mountain peak. Once one departs from that center, land values fall in direct proportion to the value of their use, made more or less attractive by whatever social attributes are provided in the proximate areas. Two illustrations from small and medium sized cities in the United States illustrate the point. ... read the whole article

To share this page with a friend: right click, choose "send," and add your comments.

Red links have not been visited; .
Green links are pages you've seen

Essential Documents pertinent to this theme:

Top of page
Essential Documents
to email this page to a friend: right click, choose "send"
Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper