For a while we were hearing a lot about
the "Ownership Society," which seemed to seek to privatize as many things
Georgists have a different idea about ownership: that which
one makes, one is entitled to keep. But the economic value of that which
society creates or nature provided us, society should
receive back, in the form of a
user fee or land rent, for reinvestment in the commons.
Thus, instead of
pork projects like Alaska's "bridge to nowhere" being funded from taxes
on wages and creating a huge increase in land value to benefit the lucky
island (allowing them to charge their fellow human beings more to use
or buy that land!), Georgists would collect the resulting increase in
land value from the "lucky
folks," and recycle it to fund the next public project — without
tapping that which is inherently private — one's work, one's wages,
one's savings — to do it! We'd recycle the revenue, using it over
and over again, rather than having to collect it from wage-earners. (And
if a capital project like a bridge is unlikely to create an increase
in land value sufficient to cover the project's costs within a reasonable
period of time, it probably doesn't make sense to do it yet!)
Isn't this a better vision of a good society? A place where
common spending benefits all of us, and where one gets to keep one's wages,
instead of having them taxed to enrich others?
What constitutes the rightful basis of property? What is it that enables
a man justly to say of a thing, "It is mine!" From what springs
the sentiment which acknowledges his exclusive right as against all the world?
Is it not, primarily, the right of a man to himself, to the use of his own
powers, to the enjoyment of the fruits of his own exertions? Is it not this
individual right, which springs from and is testified to by the natural facts
of individual organization — the fact that each particular pair of
hands obey a particular brain and are related to a particular stomach; the
fact that each
man is a definite, coherent, independent whole — which alone justifies
individual ownership? As a man belongs to himself, so his labor when put
form belongs to him. ...
This right of ownership that springs
from labor excludes the possibility of any other right of ownership. If
a man be rightfully entitled to the produce of his own labor, then no
one can be rightfully entitled to the ownership of anything which is
not the produce of his labor, or the labor of someone else from whom
the right has passed to him. If production give to the producer the
right to exclusive possession and enjoyment, there can rightfully be no
exclusive possession and enjoyment of anything not the production of
labor, and the recognition of private property in land is a
Henry George, Progress & Poverty,
VII (Justice of the Remedy),
Chapter 1 (Injustice of private property)
neoclassical economists' view of
their proper role is rather like that in The Realtor's Oath, which
includes a vow '
To protect the individual right of real estate
ownership.' The word '
individual' is construed broadly to include
corporations, estates, trusts, anonymous offshore funds, schools,
government agencies, institutions, partnerships, cooperatives, the Duke
of Westminster, the Sultan of Brunei, the Medellin Cartel, Saddam
Hussein, congregations, Archbishops, families (including criminal
families) and so on, but '
individual' sounds more all-American and
subsumes them all. This is a potent chant that stirs people to extremes
of self-righteousness and siege mentality when challenged."
- Mason Gaffney
Owe and own ...
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
As to the right of ownership, we hold: That —
Being created individuals, with individual wants and powers, men are individually
entitled (subject of course to the moral obligations that arise from such
relations as that of the family) to the use of their own powers and the enjoyment
of the results. There thus arises, anterior to human law, and deriving its
validity from the law of God, a right of private ownership in things produced
by labor — a right that the possessor may transfer, but of which to
deprive him without his will is theft.
This right of property, originating in the right of the individual to himself,
is the only full and complete right of property. It attaches to things produced
by labor, but cannot attach to things created by God.
Thus, if a man take a fish from the ocean he acquires a right of property
in that fish, which exclusive right he may transfer by sale or gift. But
he cannot obtain a similar right of property in the ocean, so that he may
sell it or give it or forbid others to use it.
Or, if he set up a windmill he acquires a right of property in the things
such use of wind enables him to produce. But he cannot claim a right of property
in the wind itself, so that he may sell it or forbid others to use it.
Or, if he cultivate grain he acquires a right of property in the grain his
labor brings forth. But he cannot obtain a similar right of property in the
sun which ripened it or the soil on which it grew. For these things are of
the continuing gifts of God to all generations of men, which all may use,
but none may claim as his alone.
To attach to things created by God the same right of private ownership that
justly attaches to things produced by labor is to impair and deny the true
rights of property. For a man who out of the proceeds of his labor is obliged
to pay another man for the use of ocean or air or sunshine or soil, all of
which are to men involved in the single term land, is in this deprived of
his rightful property and thus robbed.
As to the use of land, we hold: That —
While the right of ownership that justly attaches to things produced by
labor cannot attach to land, there may attach to land a right of possession.
As your Holiness says, “God has not granted the earth to mankind in
general in the sense that all without distinction can deal with it as they
please,” and regulations necessary for its best use may be fixed by
human laws. But such regulations must conform to the moral law — must
secure to all equal participation in the advantages of God’s general
bounty. The principle is the same as where a human father leaves property
equally to a number of children. Some of the things thus left may be incapable
of common use or of specific division. Such things may properly be assigned
to some of the children, but only under condition that the equality of benefit
among them all be preserved.
In the rudest social state, while industry consists in hunting, fishing,
and gathering the spontaneous fruits of the earth, private possession of
land is not necessary. But as men begin to cultivate the ground and expend
their labor in permanent works, private possession of the land on which labor
is thus expended is needed to secure the right of property in the products
of labor. For who would sow if not assured of the exclusive possession needed
to enable him to reap? who would attach costly works to the soil without
such exclusive possession of the soil as would enable him to secure the benefit?
This right of private possession in things created by God is however very
different from the right of private ownership in things produced by labor.
The one is limited, the other unlimited, save in cases when the dictate of
self-preservation terminates all other rights. The purpose of the one, the
exclusive possession of land, is merely to secure the other, the exclusive
ownership of the products of labor; and it can never rightfully be carried
so far as to impair or deny this. While any one may hold exclusive possession
of land so far as it does not interfere with the equal rights of others,
he can rightfully hold it no further.
Thus Cain and Abel, were there only two men on earth, might by agreement
divide the earth between them. Under this compact each might claim exclusive
right to his share as against the other. But neither could rightfully continue
such claim against the next man born. For since no one comes into the world
without God’s permission, his presence attests his equal right to the
use of God’s bounty. For them to refuse him any use of the earth which
they had divided between them would therefore be for them to commit murder.
And for them to refuse him any use of the earth, unless by laboring for them
or by giving them part of the products of his labor he bought it of them,
would be for them to commit theft. ...
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 Holiness will see from the explanation I have given that the reform
we propose, like all true reforms, has both an ethical and an economic side.
By ignoring the ethical side, and pushing our proposal merely as a reform
of taxation, we could avoid the objections that arise from confounding ownership
with possession and attributing to private property in land that security
of use and improvement that can be had even better without it. All that we
seek practically is the legal abolition, as fast as possible, of taxes on
the products and processes of labor, and the consequent concentration of
taxation on land values irrespective of improvements. To put our proposals
in this way would be to urge them merely as a matter of wise public expediency.
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.)
1. That what is bought with rightful property is rightful property. (5.)*
Clearly, purchase and sale cannot give, but can only transfer ownership.
Property that in itself has no moral sanction does not obtain moral sanction
by passing from seller to buyer.
If right reason does not make the slave the property of the slave-hunter
it does not make him the property of the slave-buyer. Yet your reasoning
as to private property in land would as well justify property in slaves. To show this it is only needful to change in your argument the word land
to the word slave. It would then read:
It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labor,
the very reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and to hold
it as his own private possession.
If one man hires out to another his strength or his industry, he does this
for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for food and living;
he thereby expressly proposes to acquire a full and legal right, not only
to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of that remuneration as he
Thus, if he lives sparingly, saves money, and invests his savings,
for greater security, in a slave, the slave in such a case is only his
form; and consequently, a working-man’s slave thus purchased should
be as completely at his own disposal as the wages he receives for his
Nor in turning your argument for private property in land into an argument
for private property in men am I doing a new thing. In my own country,
in my own time, this very argument, that purchase gave ownership, was the
defense of slavery. It was made by statesmen, by jurists, by clergymen, by
bishops; it was accepted over the whole country by the great mass of the
people. By it was justified the separation of wives from husbands, of children
from parents, the compelling of labor, the appropriation of its fruits, the
buying and selling of Christians by Christians. In language almost identical
with yours it was asked, “Here is a poor man who has worked hard, lived
sparingly, and invested his savings in a few slaves. Would you rob him of
his earnings by liberating those slaves?” Or it was said: “Here
is a poor widow; all her husband has been able to leave her is a few negroes,
the earnings of his hard toil. Would you rob the widow and the orphan by
freeing these negroes?” And because of this perversion of reason, this
confounding of unjust property rights with just property rights, this acceptance
of man’s law as though it were God’s law, there came on our nation
a judgment of fire and blood.
The error of our people in thinking that what in itself was not rightfully
property could become rightful property by purchase and sale is the same
error into which your Holiness falls. It is not merely formally the same;
it is essentially the same. Private property in land, no less than
private property in slaves, is a violation of the true rights of property. They are
different forms of the same robbery; twin devices by which the perverted
ingenuity of man has sought to enable the strong and the cunning to escape
God’s requirement of labor by forcing it on others.
What difference does it make whether I merely own the land on which another
man must live or own the man himself? Am I not in the one case as much his
master as in the other? Can I not compel him to work for me? Can I not take
to myself as much of the fruits of his labor; as fully dictate his actions?
Have I not over him the power of life and death?
For to deprive a man of land is as certainly to kill him as to deprive him
of blood by opening his veins, or of air by tightening a halter around his
The essence of slavery is in empowering one man to obtain the labor
of another without recompense. Private property in land does this as fully
slavery. The slave-owner must leave to the slave enough of his earnings to
enable him to live. Are there not in so-called free countries great bodies
of working-men who get no more? How much more of the fruits of their toil
do the agricultural laborers of Italy and England get than did the slaves
of our Southern States? Did not private property in land permit the landowner
of Europe in ruder times to demand the jus primae noctis? Does not the same
last outrage exist today in diffused form in the immorality born of monstrous
wealth on the one hand and ghastly poverty on the other?
In what did the slavery of Russia consist but in giving to the master land
on which the serf was forced to live? When an Ivan or a Catherine enriched
their favorites with the labor of others they did not give men, they gave
land. And when the appropriation of land has gone so far that no free land
remains to which the landless man may turn, then without further violence
the more insidious form of labor robbery involved in private property in
land takes the place of chattel slavery, because more economical and convenient.
For under it the slave does not have to be caught or held, or to be fed when
not needed. He comes of himself, begging the privilege of serving, and when
no longer wanted can be discharged. The lash is unnecessary; hunger is as
efficacious. This is why the Norman conquerors of England and the English
conquerors of Ireland did not divide up the people, but divided the land.
This is why European slave-ships took their cargoes to the New World, not
Slavery is not yet abolished. Though in all Christian countries its ruder
form has now gone, it still exists in the heart of our civilization in more
insidious form, and is increasing. There is work to be done for the glory
of God and the liberty of man by other soldiers of the cross than those warrior
monks whom, with the blessing of your Holiness, Cardinal Lavigerie is sending
into the Sahara. Yet, your Encyclical employs in defense of one form of slavery
the same fallacies that the apologists for chattel slavery used in defense
of the other!
The Arabs are not wanting in acumen. Your Encyclical reaches far. What shall
your warrior monks say, if when at the muzzle of their rifles they demand
of some Arab slave-merchant his miserable caravan, he shall declare that
he bought them with his savings, and producing a copy of your Encyclical,
shall prove by your reasoning that his slaves are consequently “only
his wages in another form,” and ask if they who bear your blessing
and own your authority propose to “deprive him of the liberty of disposing
of his wages and thus of all hope and possibility of increasing his stock
and bettering his condition in life”?
3. That private property in land deprives no one of the use of land. (8.)
Your own statement that land is the inexhaustible storehouse that God owes
to man must have aroused in your Holiness’s mind an uneasy questioning
of its appropriation as private property, for, as though to reassure yourself,
you proceed to argue that its ownership by some will not injure others. You
say in substance, that even though divided among private owners the earth
does not cease to minister to the needs of all, since those who do not possess
the soil can by selling their labor obtain in payment the produce of the
Suppose that to your Holiness as a judge of morals one should put this case
I am one of several children to whom our father left a field abundant for
our support. As he assigned no part of it to any one of us in particular,
leaving the limits of our separate possession to be fixed by ourselves, I
being the eldest took the whole field in exclusive ownership. But in doing
so I have not deprived my brothers of their support from it, for I have let
them work for me on it, paying them from the produce as much wages as I would
have had to pay strangers. Is there any reason why my conscience should not
What would be your answer? Would you not tell him that he was in mortal
sin, and that his excuse added to his guilt? Would you not call on him to
make restitution and to do penance?
Or, suppose that as a temporal prince your Holiness were ruler of a rainless
land, such as Egypt, where there were no springs or brooks, their want being
supplied by a bountiful river like the Nile. Supposing that having sent a
number of your subjects to make fruitful this land, bidding them do justly
and prosper, you were told that some of them had set up a claim of ownership
in the river, refusing the others a drop of water, except as they bought
it of them; and that thus they had become rich without work, while the others,
though working hard, were so impoverished by paying for water as to be hardly
able to exist?
Would not your indignation wax hot when this was told?
Suppose that then the river-owners should send to you and thus excuse their
The river, though divided among private owners, ceases not thereby
to minister to the needs of all, for there is no one who drinks who does
the water of the river. Those who do not possess the water of the river
contribute their labor to get it; so that it may be truly said that all
water is supplied
either from one’s own river, or from some laborious industry which
is paid for either in the water, or in that which is exchanged for the
Would the indignation of your Holiness be abated? Would it not wax fiercer
yet for the insult to your intelligence of this excuse?
I do not need more formally to show your Holiness that between utterly depriving
a man of God’s gifts and depriving him of God’s gifts unless
he will buy them, is merely the difference between the robber who leaves
his victim to die and the robber who puts him to ransom. But I would like
to point out how your statement that “the earth, though divided among
private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all” overlooks
the largest facts.
From your palace of the Vatican the eye may rest on the expanse of the Campagna,
where the pious toil of religious congregations and the efforts of the state
are only now beginning to make it possible for men to live. Once that expanse
was tilled by thriving husbandmen and dotted with smiling hamlets. What for
centuries has condemned it to desertion? History tells us. It was private
property in land; the growth of the great estates of which Pliny saw that
ancient Italy was perishing; the cause that, by bringing failure to the crop
of men, let in the Goths and Vandals, gave Roman Britain to the worship of
Odin and Thor, and in what were once the rich and populous provinces of the
East shivered the thinned ranks and palsied arms of the legions on the simitars
of Mohammedan hordes, and in the sepulcher of our Lord and in the Church
of St. Sophia trampled the cross to rear the crescent!
If you will go to Scotland, you may see great tracts that under the Gaelic
tenure, which recognized the right of each to a foothold in the soil, bred
sturdy men, but that now, under the recognition of private property in land,
are given up to wild animals. If you go to Ireland, your Bishops will show
you, on lands where now only beasts graze, the traces of hamlets that, when
they were young priests, were filled with honest, kindly, religious people.*
* Let any one who wishes visit this diocese and see with
his own eyes the vast and boundless extent of the fairest land in Europe
that has been
depopulated since the commencement of the present century, and which
is now abandoned to a loneliness and solitude more depressing than that
of the prairie
or the wilderness. Thus has this land system actually exercised the power
of life and death on a vast scale, for which there is no parallel even
in the dark records of slavery. — Bishop
Nulty’s Letter to
the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese of Meath.
If you will come to the United States, you will find in a land wide enough
and rich enough to support in comfort the whole population of Europe, the
growth of a sentiment that looks with evil eye on immigration, because the
artificial scarcity that results from private property in land makes it seem
as if there is not room enough and work enough for those already here.
Or go to the Antipodes, and in Australia, as in England, you may see that
private property in land is operating to leave the land barren and to crowd
the bulk of the population into great cities. Go wherever you please where
the forces loosed by modern invention are beginning to be felt and you may
see that private property in land is the curse, denounced by the prophet,
that prompts men to lay field to field till they “alone dwell in the
midst of the earth.
To the mere materialist this is sin and shame. Shall we to whom this world
is God’s world — we who hold that man is called to this life
only as a prelude to a higher life — shall we defend it?
4. That Industry expended on land gives ownership in the land itself. (9-10.)
Your Holiness next contends that industry expended on land gives a right
to ownership of the land, and that the improvement of land creates benefits
indistinguishable and inseparable from the land itself.
This contention, if valid, could only justify the ownership of land by those
who expend industry on it. It would not justify private property in land
as it exists. On the contrary, it would justify a gigantic no-rent declaration
that would take land from those who now legally own it, the landlords, and
turn it over to the tenants and laborers. And if it also be that improvements
cannot be distinguished and separated from the land itself, how could the
landlords claim consideration even for improvements they had made?
But your Holiness cannot mean what your words imply. What you really mean,
I take it, is that the original justification and title of landownership
is in the expenditure of labor on it. But neither can this justify private
property in land as it exists. For is it not all but universally true that
existing land titles do not come from use, but from force or fraud?
Take Italy! Is it not true that the greater part of the land of Italy is
held by those who so far from ever having expended industry on it have been
mere appropriators of the industry of those who have? Is this not also true
of Great Britain and of other countries? Even in the United States, where
the forces of concentration have not yet had time fully to operate and there
has been some attempt to give land to users, it is probably true today that
the greater part of the land is held by those who neither use it nor propose
to use it themselves, but merely hold it to compel others to pay them for
permission to use it.
And if industry give ownership to land what are the limits of this
ownership? If a man may acquire the ownership of several square miles of land by grazing
sheep on it, does this give to him and his heirs the ownership of the same
land when it is found to contain rich mines, or when by the growth of population
and the progress of society it is needed for farming, for gardening, for
the close occupation of a great city? Is it on the rights given by the industry
of those who first used it for grazing cows or growing potatoes that you
would found the title to the land now covered by the city of New York and
having a value of thousands of millions of dollars?
But your contention is not valid. Industry expended on land gives ownership
in the fruits of that industry, but not in the land itself, just as industry
expended on the ocean would give a right of ownership to the fish taken by
it, but not a right of ownership in the ocean. Nor yet is it true that private
ownership of land is necessary to secure the fruits of labor on land; nor
does the improvement of land create benefits indistinguishable and inseparable
from the land itself. That secure possession is necessary to the use and
improvement of land I have already explained, but that ownership is not necessary
is shown by the fact that in all civilized countries land owned by one person
is cultivated and improved by other persons. Most of the cultivated land
in the British Islands, as in Italy and other countries, is cultivated not
by owners but by tenants. And so the costliest buildings are erected by those
who are not owners of the land, but who have from the owner a mere right
of possession for a time on condition of certain payments. Nearly the whole
of London has been built in this way, and in New York, Chicago, Denver, San
Francisco, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as in continental cities, the owners
of many of the largest edifices will be found to be different persons from
the owners of the ground. So far from the value of improvements being inseparable
from the value of land, it is in individual transactions constantly separated.
For instance, one-half of the land on which the immense Grand Pacific Hotel
in Chicago stands was recently separately sold, and in Ceylon it is a not
infrequent occurrence for one person to own a fruit-tree and another to own
the ground in which it is implanted.
There is, indeed, no improvement of land, whether it be clearing, plowing,
manuring, cultivating, the digging of cellars, the opening of wells or the
building of houses, that so long as its usefulness continues does not have
a value clearly distinguishable from the value of the land. For land having
such improvements will always sell or rent for more than similar land without
If, therefore, the state levy a tax equal to what the land irrespective
of improvement would bring, it will take the benefits of mere ownership,
but will leave the full benefits of use and improvement, which the prevailing
system does not do. And since the holder, who would still in form continue
to be the owner, could at any time give or sell both possession and improvements,
subject to future assessment by the state on the value of the land alone,
he will be perfectly free to retain or dispose of the full amount of property
that the exertion of his labor or the investment of his capital has attached
to or stored up in the land.
Thus, what we propose would secure, as it is impossible in any other way
to secure, what you properly say is just and right — “that the
results of labor should belong to him who has labored.” But private
property in land — to allow the holder without adequate payment to
the state to take for himself the benefit of the value that attaches to land
with social growth and improvement — does take the results of labor
from him who has labored, does turn over the fruits of one man’s labor
to be enjoyed by another. For labor, as the active factor, is the producer
of all wealth. Mere ownership produces nothing. A man might own a world,
but so sure is the decree that “by the sweat of thy brow shalt thou
eat bread,” that without labor he could not get a meal or provide himself
a garment. Hence, when the owners of land, by virtue of their ownership and
without laboring themselves, get the products of labor in abundance, these
things must come from the labor of others, must be the fruits of others’ sweat,
taken from those who have a right to them and enjoyed by those who have no
right to them.
The only utility of private ownership of land as distinguished from
possession is the evil utility of giving to the owner products of labor
he does not
earn. For until land will yield to its owner some return beyond that of the
labor and capital he expends on it — that is to say, until by sale
or rental he can without expenditure of labor obtain from it products of
labor, ownership amounts to no more than security of possession, and has
no value. Its importance and value begin only when, either in the present
or prospectively, it will yield a revenue — that is to say, will enable
the owner as owner to obtain products of labor without exertion on his part,
and thus to enjoy the results of others’ labor.
What largely keeps men from realizing the robbery involved in private property
in land is that in the most striking cases the robbery is not of individuals,
but of the community. For, as I have before explained, it is impossible for
rent in the economic sense — that value which attaches to land by reason
of social growth and improvement — to go to the user. It can go only
to the owner or to the community. Thus those who pay enormous rents for the
use of land in such centers as London or New York are not individually injured.
Individually they get a return for what they pay, and must feel that they
have no better right to the use of such peculiarly advantageous localities
without paying for it than have thousands of others. And so, not thinking
or not caring for the interests of the community, they make no objection
to the system.
It recently came to light in New York that a man having no title whatever
had been for years collecting rents on a piece of land that the growth of
the city had made very valuable. Those who paid these rents had never stopped
to ask whether he had any right to them. They felt that they had no right
to land that so many others would like to have, without paying for it, and
did not think of, or did not care for, the rights of all. ...
7. That the private ownership of land stimulates industry, increases
wealth, and attaches men to the soil and to their country. (51.)
The idea, as expressed by Arthur Young, that “the magic of property
turns barren sands to gold” springs from the confusion of ownership
with possession, of which I have before spoken, that attributes to private
property in land what is due to security of the products of labor. It is
needless for me again to point out that the change we propose, the taxation
for public uses of land values, or economic rent, and the abolition of other
taxes, would give to the user of land far greater security for the fruits
of his labor than the present system and far greater permanence of possession.
Nor is it necessary further to show how it would give homes to those who
are now homeless and bind men to their country. For under it every one who
wanted a piece of land for a home or for productive use could get it without
purchase price and hold it even without tax, since the tax we propose would
not fall on all land, nor even on all land in use, but only on land better
than the poorest land in use, and is in reality not a tax at all, but merely
a return to the state for the use of a valuable privilege. And even those
who from circumstances or occupation did not wish to make permanent use of
land would still have an equal interest with all others in the land of their
country and in the general prosperity.
But I should like your Holiness to consider how utterly unnatural is the
condition of the masses in the richest and most progressive of Christian
countries; how large bodies of them live in habitations in which a rich man
would not ask his dog to dwell; how the great majority have no homes from
which they are not liable on the slightest misfortune to be evicted; how
numbers have no homes at all, but must seek what shelter chance or charity
offers. I should like to ask your Holiness to consider how the great majority
of men in such countries have no interest whatever in what they are taught
to call their native land, for which they are told that on occasions it is
their duty to fight or to die. What right, for instance, have the majority
of your countrymen in the land of their birth? Can they live in Italy outside
of a prison or a poorhouse except as they buy the privilege from some of
the exclusive owners of Italy? Cannot an Englishman, an American, an Arab
or a Japanese do as much? May not what was said centuries ago by Tiberius
Gracchus be said today: “Men of Rome! you are called the lords of the
world, yet have no right to a square foot of its soil! The wild beasts have
their dens, but the soldiers of Italy have only water and air!”
What is true of Italy is true of the civilized world — is becoming
increasingly true. It is the inevitable effect as civilization progresses
of private property in land. ...
Since man can live only on land and from land, since land is the
reservoir of matter and force from which man’s body itself is taken,
and on which he must draw for all that he can produce, does it not irresistibly
that to give the land in ownership to some men and to deny to others all
right to it is to divide mankind into the rich and the poor, the privileged
and the helpless? Does it not follow that those who have no rights
to the use of land can live only by selling their power to labor to those
the land? Does it not follow that what the socialists call “the iron
law of wages,” what the political economists term “the tendency
of wages to a minimum,” must take from the landless masses — the
mere laborers, who of themselves have no power to use their labor — all
the benefits of any possible advance or improvement that does not alter this
unjust division of land? For having no power to employ themselves, they must,
either as labor-sellers or as land-renters, compete with one another for
permission to labor. This competition with one another of men shut out from
God’s inexhaustible storehouse has no limit but starvation, and must
ultimately force wages to their lowest point, the point at which life can
just be maintained and reproduction carried on. ... read
the whole letter
Henry George: The Common Sense of Taxation (1881
To consider what is included in the category of property is to see the absurdity
of saying that all property should be equally taxed. For not to speak of
minor differences that arise from application and use, there are commonly
included under this term things of essentially different nature. Whatever
is recognized by municipal law as subject to ownership is property. But
between things thus classed together are wide differences. In the first place,
are certain of them which have in themselves no value, but are merely the
representatives or doubles of property in itself valuable. Such are stocks,
bonds, mortgages, promissory notes of all kinds, whether made by individuals
or issued by governments to serve as money, solvent debts, book-accounts,
etc. These things may be to the individual valuable property, and are correctly
included in any estimate of his wealth. But they are no part of the wealth
of the community. Their increase does not make the community a whit the richer;
and they may be utterly destroyed without the community becoming a whit the
poorer. If I buy a horse, giving my note for the amount, the result of the
transaction (supposing me to be solvent) is that the seller gets property
to the value of the horse, while I get the horse. But there has been no increase
in wealth. To the seller, my note may be quite as good as the horse, and
in estimating his wealth it may be as properly included as the horse; but
if the note be destroyed, the community is nothing the poorer, while if the
horse break his neck, there is a lessening of the general wealth by one horse.
And so, the issuance of bonds by a government, or the watering of stock by
a corporation, can in no wise increase the general sum of wealth, nor will
any diminution either in the amount or in the selling price of such bonds
or stock reduce it. If all the governments of the world were to repudiate
their debts tomorrow, an immense amount of property, now carefully guarded,
would become waste paper, and thousands of people now rich would be made
poor, but the wealth of the human race would not be diminished one iota. ...
For, keeping in mind the fact that all wealth is the result of human exertion,
it is clearly seen that, having in view the promotion of the general prosperity,
it is the height of absurdity to tax wealth for purposes of revenue while
there remains, unexhausted by taxation, any value attaching to land. We may
tax land values as much as we please, without in the slightest degree lessening
the amount of land, or the capabilities of land, or the inducement to use
land. But we cannot tax wealth without lessening the inducement to the production
of wealth, and decreasing the amount of wealth. We might take the whole value
of land in taxation, so as to make the ownership of land worth nothing, and
the land would still remain, and be as useful as before. The effect would
be to throw land open to users free of price, and thus to increase its capabilities,
which are brought out by increased population. But impose anything like such
taxation upon wealth, and the inducement to the production of wealth would
be gone. Movable wealth would be hidden or carried off, immovable wealth
would be suffered to go to decay, and where was prosperity would soon be
the silence of desolation.
And the reason of this difference is clear. The possession of wealth is
the inducement to the exertion necessary to the production and maintenance
of wealth. Men do not work for the pleasure of working, but to get the things
their work will give them. And to tax the things that are produced by exertion
is to lessen the inducement to exertion. But over and above the benefit to
the possessor, which is the stimulating motive to the production of wealth,
there is a benefit to the community, for no matter how selfish he may be,
it is utterly impossible for any one to entirely keep to himself the benefit
of any desirable thing he may possess. These diffused benefits when localized
give value to land, and this may be taxed without in any wise diminishing
the incentive to production.
To illustrate: A man builds a fine house or large factory in a poorly improved
neighborhood. To tax this building and its adjuncts is to make him pay for
his enterprise and expenditure — to take from him part of his natural
reward. But the improvement thus made has given new beauty or life to the
neighborhood, making it a more desirable place than before for the erection
of other houses or factories, and additional value is given to land all about.
Now to tax improvements is not only to deprive of his proper reward the man
who has made the improvement, but it is to deter others from making similar
improvements. But, instead of taxing improvements, to tax these land values
is to leave the natural inducement to further improvement in full force,
and at the same time to keep down an obstacle to further improvement, which,
under the present system, improvement itself tends to raise. For the advance
of land values which follows improvement, and even the expectation of improvement,
makes further improvement more costly.
See how unjust and short-sighted is this system. Here is a man who, gathering
what little capital he can, and taking his family, starts West to find a
place where he can make himself a home. He must travel long distances; for,
though he will pass plenty of land nobody is using, it is held at prices
too high for him. Finally he will go no further, and selects a place where,
since the creation of the world, the soil, so far as we know, has never felt
a plowshare. But here, too, in nine cases out of ten, he will find the speculator
has been ahead of him, for the speculator moves quicker, and has superior
means of information to the emigrant. Before he can put this land to the
use for which nature intended it, and to which it is for the general good
that it should be put, he must make terms with some man who in all probability
never saw the land, and never dreamed of using it, and who, it may be, resides
in some city, thousands of miles away. In order to get permission to use
this land, he must give up a large part of the little capital which is seed-wheat
to him, and perhaps in addition mortgage his future labor for years. Still
he goes to work: he works himself, and his wife works, and his children work — work
like horses, and live in the hardest and dreariest manner. Such a man deserves
encouragement, not discouragement; but on him taxation falls with peculiar
severity. Almost everything that he has to buy — groceries, clothing,
tools — is largely raised in price by a system of tariff taxation which
cannot add to the price of the grain or hogs or cattle that he has to sell.
And when the assessor comes around he is taxed on the improvements he has
made, although these improvements have added not only to the value of surrounding
land, but even to the value of land in distant commercial centers. Not merely
this, but, as a general rule, his land, irrespective of the improvements,
will be assessed at a higher rate than unimproved land around it, on the
ground that "productive property" ought to pay more than "unproductive
property" — a principle just the reverse of the correct one, for
the man who makes land productive adds to the general prosperity, while the
man who keeps land unproductive stands in the way of the general prosperity,
is but a dog-in-the-manger, who prevents others from using what he will not
Or, take the case of the railroads. That railroads are a public benefit
no one will dispute. We want more railroads, and want them to reduce their
fares and freight. Why then should we tax them? for taxes upon railroads
deter from railroad building, and compel higher charges. Instead of taxing
the railroads, is it not clear that we should rather tax the increased value
which they give to land? To tax railroads is to check railroad building,
to reduce profits, and compel higher rates; to tax the value they give to
land is to increase railroad business and permit lower rates. The elevated
railroads, for instance, have opened to the overcrowded population of New
York the wide, vacant spaces of the upper part of the island. But this great
public benefit is neutralized by the rise in land values. Because these vacant
lots can be reached more cheaply and quickly, their owners demand more for
them, and so the public gain in one way is offset in another, while the roads
lose the business they would get were not building checked by the high prices
demanded for lots. The increase of land values, which the elevated roads
have caused, is not merely no advantage to them — it is an injury;
and it is clearly a public injury. The elevated railroads ought not to be
taxed. The more profit they make, with the better conscience can they be
asked to still further reduce fares. It is the increased land values which
they have created that ought to be taxed, for taxing them will give the public
the full benefit of cheap fares.
So with railroads everywhere. And so not alone with railroads, but with
all industrial enterprises. So long as we consider that community most prosperous
which increases most rapidly in wealth, so long is it the height of absurdity
for us to tax wealth in any of its beneficial forms. We should tax what we
want to repress, not what we want to encourage. We should tax that which
results from the general prosperity, not that which conduces to it. It is
the increase of population, the extension of cultivation, the manufacture
of goods, the building of houses and ships and railroads, the accumulation
of capital, and the growth of commerce that add to the value of land — not
the increase in the value of land that induces the increase of population
and increase of wealth. It is not that the land of Manhattan Island is now
worth hundreds of millions where, in the time of the early Dutch settlers,
it was only worth dollars, that there are on it now so many more people,
and so much more wealth. It is because of the increase of population and
the increase of wealth that the value of the land has so much increased.
Increase of land values tends of itself to repel population and prevent improvement.
And thus the taxation of land values, unlike taxation of other property,
does not tend to prevent the increase of wealth, but rather to stimulate
it. It is the taking of the golden egg, not the choking of the goose that
Every consideration of policy and ethics squares with this conclusion. The
tax upon land values is the most economically perfect of all taxes. It does
not raise prices; it maybe collected at least cost, and with the utmost ease
and certainty; it leaves in full strength all the springs of production;
and, above all, it consorts with the truest equality and the highest justice.
For, to take for the common purposes of the community that value which results
from the growth of the community, and to free industry and enterprise and
thrift from burden and restraint, is to leave to each that which he fairly
earns, and to assert the first and most comprehensive of equal rights — the
equal right of all to the land on which, and from which, all must live.
Thus it is that the scheme of taxation which conduces to the greatest production
is also that which conduces to the fairest distribution, and that in the
proper adjustment of taxation lies not merely the possibility of enormously
increasing the general wealth, but the solution of these pressing social
and political problems which spring from unnatural inequality in the distribution
"There is," says M. de Laveleye, in concluding that work in which
he shows that the first perceptions of mankind have everywhere recognized
a most vital distinction between property in land and property which results
from labor, — "there is in human affairs one system which is the
best; it is not that system which always exists, otherwise why should we
desire to change it; but it is that system which should exist for the greatest
good of humanity. God knows it, and wills it; man's duty it is to discover
and establish it." ... read the
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 Wages of
Thus, to take the annual
value of land irrespective of
improvements cannot lessen the rewards of industry, nor in any way take
from the individual what belongs to the individual. It can only take
the value that attaches to land by the growth of the community, and
which therefore belongs to the community as a whole.
To take land values for the State,
abolishing all taxes on the
products of labor, would leave to the laborer the full produce of
labor; to the individual all that rightfully belongs to the
individual. It would impose no burden on industry, no check on
commerce, no punishment on thrift; it would secure the largest
production and the fairest distribution of wealth, by leaving men free
to produce and to exchange as they please, without any artificial
enhancement of prices; and by taking far public purposes a value that
cannot be carried off, that cannot be hidden, that of all values is
most easily ascertained and most certainly and cheaply collected, it
would enormously lessen the number of officials, dispense with oaths,
and do away with temptations to bribery and evasion.... read
the whole article
Henry George: The
Land for the People (1889 speech)
NOW, as to the rights of
ownership -- as to that principle which enables a man to say of any
certain thing --"This is mine; it is my property" -- where does that
come from? If you look you will see that it comes from the right of the
producer to the thing which he produces. What a man makes he can justly
claim to be his. Whatever any individual, by the exercise of
his powers, takes from the reservoirs of nature, molds into shapes
fitted to satisfy human needs, that is his; to that a just and sacred
right of property attaches. That is a right based on the right of the
individual to improvement, the right to the enjoyment of his own
powers, to the possession of the fruits of his exertions. That is a
sacred right, to violate which is to violate the sacred command, "Thou
shalt not steal." There is the right of ownership. Now that right,
which gives by natural and Divine laws, the thing produced to him whose
exertion has produced it, which gives to the man who builds a house the
right to that house, to the man who raises a crop the right to that
crop, to the man who raises a domestic animal a right to that domestic
animal -- how can that right
attach to the reservoirs of nature? How can that right attach to the
WE start out
with these two principles, which I think are clear
and self-evident: that which a man makes belongs to him and can by
him be given or sold to anyone that he pleases But that which existed
before man came upon the earth, that which was not produced by man,
but which was created by God -- that belongs equally to all men. As
no man made the land, so no man can claim a right of ownership in the
land. As God made the land, and as we know both from natural
perception and from revealed religion, that God the Creator is no
respecter of persons, that in His eyes all men are equal, so also do
we know that He made this earth equally for all the human creatures
that He has called to dwell upon it. We start out with this
principle that as all men are here by the equal permission of the
Creator, as they are all here under His laws equally requiring the
use of land, as they are all here with equal right to live, so they
are all here with equal right to the enjoyment of His bounty. Read the whole speech
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a
themed collection of
excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
NATURE acknowledges no ownership or control in man save as the result of
exertion. In no other way can her treasures be drawn forth, her powers directed,
or her forces utilized or controlled. She makes no discriminations among
men, but is to all absolutely impartial. She knows no distinction between
master and slave, king and subject, saint and sinner. All men to her stand
upon an equal footing and have equal rights. She recognizes no claim but
that of labor, and recognizes that without respect to the claimant. If a
pirate spread his sails, the wind will fill them as well as it will fill
those of a peaceful merchantman or missionary bark; if a king and a common
man be thrown overboard, neither can keep his head above the water except
by swimming; birds will not come to be shot by the proprietor of the soil
any quicker than they will come to be shot by the poacher; fish will bite
or will not bite at a hook in utter disregard as to whether it is offered
them by a good little boy who goes to Sunday school, or a bad little boy
who plays truant; grain will grow only as the ground is prepared and the
seed is sown; it is only at the call of labor that ore can be raised from
the mine; the sun shines and the rain falls alike upon just and unjust. The
laws of nature are the decrees of the Creator. There is written in them no
recognition of any right save that of labor; and in them is written broadly
and clearly the equal right of all men to the use and enjoyment of nature;
to apply to her by their exertions, and to receive and possess her reward.
Hence, as nature gives only to labor, the exertion of labor in production
is the only title to exclusive possession. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 1, Justice of the Remedy: Injustice of private property in land
PRIVATE property is not of one species, and moral sanction can no more be
asserted universally of it than of marriage. That proper marriage conforms
to the law of God does not justify the polygamic or polyandric or incestuous
marriages that are in some countries permitted by the civil law. And as there
may be immoral marriage, so may there be immoral private property. — The
Condition of Labor, an Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII
THAT any species of property is permitted by the State, does not of itself
give it moral sanction. The State has often made things property that are not
justly property but involve violence and robbery. — The
Condition of Labor, an Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII
TO attach to things created by God the same right of private ownership that
justly attaches to things produced by labor, is to impair and deny the true
rights of property. For a man, who out of the proceeds of his labor is obliged
to pay another man for the use of ocean or air or sunshine or soil, all of
which are to men involved in the single term land, is in this deprived of his
rightful property, and thus robbed. — The
Condition of Labor, an Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII
HOW then is it that we are called deniers of the right of property? It is for
the same reason that caused nine-tenths of the good people in the United
States, north as well as south, to regard abolitionists as deniers of the right
of property; the same reason that made even John Wesley look on a smuggler
as a kind of robber, and on a custom-house seizer of other men's goods as a
defender of law and order. Where violations of the right of property
have been long sanctioned by custom and law, it is inevitable that those
who really assert the right of property will at first be thought to deny it. For
under such circumstances the idea of property becomes confused, and that is
thought to be property which is in reality a violation of property. — A
Perplexed Philosopher (The
Right Of Property And The Right Of Taxation)
LANDLORDS must elect to try their case either by human law or by moral law. If
they say that land is rightly property because made so by human law, they cannot
charge those who would change that law with advocating robbery. But if
they charge that such change in human law would be robbery, then they must
show that land is rightfully property irrespective of human law. — The
Reduction to Iniquity (a reply to the Duke of Argyll), The Nineteenth
Century, July, 1884 ... go to "Gems
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)
Note 56: The ownership of the land is essentially the
ownership of the men who must use it.
"Let the circumstances be what they may — the ownership of land
will always give the ownership of men to a degree measured by the necessity
(real or artificial) for the use of land. Place one hundred men on an island
from which there is no escape, and whether you make one of these men the
absolute owner of the other ninety-nine, or the absolute owner of the soil
of the island, will make no difference either to him or to them." — Progress
and Poverty, book vii, ch. ii.
Let us imagine a shipwrecked sailor who, after battling
with the waves, touches land upon an uninhabited but fertile island.
Though hungry and
naked and shelterless, he soon has food and clothing and a house — all
of them rude, to be sure, but comfortable. How does he get them? By applying
his Labor to the Land of the island. In a little while he lives as comfortably
as an isolated man can.
Now let another shipwrecked sailor be washed ashore. As he is about to step
out of the water the first man accosts him:
"Hello, there! If you want to come ashore you must
agree to be my slave."
The second replies: "I can't. I come from the United
States, where they don't believe in slavery."
"Oh, I beg your pardon. I didn't know you came
from the United States. I had no intention of hurting your feelings,
you know. But say,
in owning land in the United States, don't they?"
"Very well; you just agree that this island is
mine, and you may come ashore a free man."
"But how does the island happen to be yours? Did
you make it?"
"No, I didn't make it."
"Have you a title from its maker?"
"No, I haven't any title from its maker."
"Well, what is your title, anyhow?"
"Oh, my title is good enough. I got here first."
Of course he got there first. But he didn't mean to, and he wouldn't have
done it if he could have helped it. But the newcomer is satisfied, and says:
"Well, that's a good United States title, so I
guess I'll recognize it and come ashore. But remember, I am to be a
"Certainly you are. Come right along up to my cabin."
For a time the two get along well enough together. But
on some fine morning the proprietor concludes that he would rather
lie abed than scurry
for his breakfast and not being in a good humor, perhaps, he somewhat
roughly commands his "brother man" to cook him a bird.
"What?" exclaims the brother.
"I tell you to go and kill a bird and cook it for
"That sounds big," sneers the second free and equal member of
the little community; "but what am I to get for doing this?"
"Oh," the first replies languidly, "if
you kill me a fat bird and cook it nicely, then after I have had my
breakfast off the
you may cook the gizzard for your own breakfast. That's pay enough. The
work is easy."
"But I want you to understand that I am not your
slave, and I won't do that work for that pay. I'll do as much work
for you as you do for
me, and no more."
"Then, sir," the first comer shouts in virtuous wrath, "I
want you to understand that my charity is at an end. I have treated you
better than you deserved in the past, and this is your gratitude. Now
I don't propose
to have any loafers on my property. You will work for the wages I offer
or get off my land! You are perfectly free. Take the wages or leave them.
the work or let it alone. There is no slavery here. But if you are not
satisfied with my terms, leave my island!"
The second man, if accustomed to the usages of the labor
unions, would probably go out and, to the music of his own violent
language about the "greed
of capital," destroy as many bows and arrows as he could, so as to paralyze
the bird-shooting industry; and this proceeding he would call a strike for
honest wages and the dignity of labor. If he were accustomed to social reform
notions of the namby-pamby variety, he would propose an arbitration, and
be mildly indignant when told that there was nothing to arbitrate — that
he had only to accept the other's offer or get off his property. But
if a sensible man, he would notify his comrade that the privilege of
in that latitude had expired. ...
c. The Law of Division of Labor and Trade
Now, what is it that leads men to conform their conduct to the principle
illustrated by the last chart? Why do they divide their labor, and trade
its products? A simple, universal and familiar law of human nature moves
them. Whether men be isolated, or be living in primitive communities, or
in advanced states of civilization, their demand for consumption determines
the direction of Labor in production.67 That is the law. Considered in connection
with a solitary individual, like Robinson Crusoe upon his island, it is obvious.
What he demanded for consumption he was obliged to produce. Even as to the
goods he collected from stranded ships — desiring to consume them,
he was obliged to labor to produce them to places of safety. His demand for
consumption always determined the direction of his labor in production.68
And when we remember that what Robinson Crusoe was to his island in the sea,
civilized man as a whole is to this island in space, we may readily understand
the application of the same simple law to the great body of labor in the
civilized world.69 Nevertheless, the complexities of civilized life are so
likely to obscure its operation and disguise its relations to social questions
like that of the persistence of poverty as to make illustration desirable.
68. It is highly significant that while Robinson Crusoe
had unsatisfied wants he was never out of a job. ...
f. The Single Tax Retains Rent for Common Use.
To retain Rent for common use it is not necessary to abolish land-titles,
nor to let land out to the highest bidder, nor to invent some new mechanism
of taxation, nor in any other way to directly change existing modes of holding
land for use, or existing machinery for collecting public revenues. "Great
changes can be best brought about under old forms."109 Let land be held
nominally as it is now. Let taxes be collected by the same kind of machinery
as now. But abolish all taxes except those that fall upon actual and potential
Rent, that is to say, upon land values.
109. "Such dupes are men to custom, and so prone
To rev'rence what is ancient and can plead
A course of long observance for its use,
That even servitude, the worst of ills,
Because delivered down from sire to son
Is kept and guarded as a sacred thing." —Cowper.
It is only custom that makes the ownership of land seem
reasonable. I have frequently had occasion to tell of the necessity under
which the city of Cleveland, Ohio, found itself, of paying a land-owner
several thousand dollars for the right to swing a bridge-draw over his
land. When I described the matter in that way, the story attracted no
attention; it seemed perfectly reasonable to the ordinary lecture audience.
But when I described the transaction as a payment by the city to a land-owner
of thousands of dollars for the privilege of swinging the draw "through
that man's air," the audience invariably manifested its appreciation
of the absurdity of such an ownership. The idea of owning air was ridiculous;
the idea of owning land was not. Yet who can explain the difference,
except as a matter of custom?
To the same effect was the question of the Rev. F. L.
Higgins to a friend. While stationed at Galveston, Tex., Mr. Higgins
fell into a discussion with his friend as to the right of government
to make land private property. The friend argued that no matter what
the abstract right might be, the government had made private property
of land, and people had bought and sold upon the strength of the government
title, and therefore land titles were morally absolute.
"Suppose," said Mr. Higgins, "that the
government should vest in a corporation title to the Gulf of Mexico,
so that no one could fish there, or sail there, or do anything in or
upon the waters of the Gulf without permission from the corporation.
Would that be right?"
"No," answered the friend.
"Well, suppose the corporation should then parcel
out the Gulf to different parties until some of the people came to own
the whole Gulf to the exclusion of everybody else, born and unborn. Could
any such title be acquired by these purchasers, or their descendants
or assignees, as that the rest of the people if they got the power would
not have a moral right to abrogate it?"
"Certainly not," said the friend.
"Could private titles to the Gulf possibly become
absolute in morals?"
"Then tell me," asked Mr. Higgins, "what
difference it would make if all the water were taken off the Gulf and
only the bare land left."
If that were done it is doubtful if land-owners could any longer confiscate
enough Rent to be worth the trouble. Even though some surplus were still
kept by them, it would be so much more easy to secure Wealth by working for
it than by confiscating Rent to private use, to say nothing of its being
so much more respectable, that speculation in land values would practically
be abandoned. At any rate, the question of a surplus — Rent in excess
of the requirements of the community — may be readily determined when
the principle that Rent justly belongs to the community and Wages to the
individual shall have been recognized by society in the adoption of the Single
110. Thomas G. Shearman, Esq., of New York, author of
the famous magazine article on "Who Owns the United States," estimates
that sixty-five per cent of the present annual value of the land in the
United States would pay all the present expenses of American government — federal,
state, county, and municipal. ...
Q32. Is not ownership of land necessary to induce its improvement? Does
not history show that private ownership is a step in advance of common
A. No. Private use was doubtless a step in advance of common use. And because
private use seems to us to have been brought about under the institution of private
ownership, private ownership appears to the superficial to have been the real
advance. But a little observation and reflection will remove that impression.
Private ownership of land is not necessary to its private use. And so far from
inducing improvement, private ownership retards it. When a man owns land he may
accumulate wealth by doing nothing with the land, simply allowing the community
to increase its value while he pays a merely nominal tax, upon the plea that
he gets no income from the property. But when the possessor has to pay the value
of his land every year, as he would have to under the single tax, and as ground
renters do now, he must improve his holding in order to profit by it. Private
possession of land, without profit except from use, promotes improvement; private
ownership, with profit regardless of use, retards improvement. Every city in
the world, in its vacant lots, offers proof of the statement. It is the lots
that are owned, and not those that are held upon ground-lease, that remain vacant.
Q52. Is not the right of ownership of a gold ring the same as the ownership
of a gold mine? and if the latter is wrong is not the former also wrong?
A. If it be wrong for you to own the spring of water which you and your fellows
use, is it therefore wrong for you to own the water that you lift from the spring
to drink? If so how do you propose to slake your thirst? If you argue in reply
that it is not wrong for you to own the spring, then how shall your fellows slake
their thirst when you treat them, as you would have a right to, as trespassers
upon your property? To own the source of labor products is to own the labor of
others; to own what you produce from that source is to own only your own labor.
Nature furnishes gold mines, but men fashion gold rings. The right of ownership
is radically different. ... read the book
Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism
of Natural Taxation, from Principles of
Natural Taxation (1917)
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"?
Q13. What is meant by the right of property?
A. As to the grain a man raises, or the house that he builds, it means ownership
full and complete. As to land, it means legal title, tenure, "estate
in land," perpetual right of exclusive possession, a right not absolute,
but superior to that of any other man.
... read the whole article
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
raft filled with shipwrecked sailors should be floating on the ocean, and
a few of the strongest and most powerful would take all the raft they could
and leave the most of the people, especially the ones who did the work,
hanging to the edges by their eyebrows. These men who have taken possession
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
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
after they are dead and, gone, so that their descendants 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 men
can own America, then one man can own it, and if one man may own it he may
all that the rest produce or he may kill them if he sees fit. It is inconsistent
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
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
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 the few. It
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 from
the land, but the public should take to itself the whole value of the land
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
solved. We may need go farther. ... read
the whole article
Upton Sinclair: The Consequences of Land
Speculation are Tenantry and Debt on the Farms, and Slums and Luxury in the
I know of a woman — I have never had the pleasure of making her acquaintance,
because she lives in a lunatic asylum, which does not happen to be on my
visiting list. This woman has been mentally incompetent from birth. She is
care of, because her father left her when he died the income of a large
farm on the outskirts of a city. The city has since grown and the land is
at conservative estimate, about twenty million dollars. It is covered with
office buildings, and the greater part of the income, which cannot be spent
by the woman, is piling up at compound interest. The woman enjoys good
health, so she may be worth a hundred million dollars before she dies.
I choose this case because it is one about which there can be no disputing;
this woman has never been able to do anything to earn that twenty million dollars.
And if a visitor from Mars should come down to study the situation, which would
he think was most insane, the unfortunate woman, or the society which compels
thousands of people to wear themselves to death in order to pay her the income
of twenty million dollars?
The fact that this woman is insane makes it easy to see that she is not
entitled to the "unearned increment" of the land she owns. But how about all
the other people who have bought up and are holding for speculation the most
desirable land? The value of this land increases, not because of anything these
owners do — not because of any useful service they render to the community — but
purely because the community as a whole is crowding into that neighborhood
and must have use of the land.
The speculator who bought this land thinks that he deserves the increase,
because he guessed the fact that the city was going to grow that way. But it
seems clear enough that his skill in guessing which way the community was going
to grow, however useful that skill may be to himself, is not in any way useful
to the community. The man may have planted trees, or built roads, and put in
sidewalks and sewers; all that is useful work, and for that he should be paid.
But should he be paid for guessing what the rest of us were going to need?
Before you answer, consider the consequences of this guessing game. The
consequences of land speculation are tenantry and debt on the farms, and
slums and luxury
in the cities. A great part of the necessary land is held out of use, and
so the value of all land continually increases, until the poor man can no
own a home. The value of farm land also increases; so year by year more
independent farmers are dispossessed, because they cannot pay interest on
So the land becomes a place of serfdom, that land described by the poet, "where
wealth accumulates and men decay." The great cities fill up with festering
slums, and a small class of idle parasites are provided with enormous fortunes,
which they do not have to earn, and which they cannot intelligently spend. ...
In Philadelphia, as in all our great cities, are enormously wealthy families,
living on hereditary incomes derived from crowded slums. Here and there
among these rich men is one who realizes that he has not earned what he is
and that it has not brought him happiness, and is bringing still less to
his children. Such men are casting about for ways to invest their money without
breeding idleness and parasitism. Some of them might be grateful to learn
this enclave plan, and to visit the lovely village of Arden, and see what
its people are doing to make possible a peaceful and joyous life, even in
land of bootleggers and jazz orchestras. ... read the whole article
Karl Williams: Social
Justice In Australia: ADVANCED KIT - Part 2
WILL OWN THE LAND?
justice to be done between men it is not necessary for the State to
take the land; it is only necessary to take its rent." - Henry
George (1839 -1897)
The above quote just about says it all. However, because of a
of misinformation about this aspect of Geonomics (with a liberal
sprinkling of half-baked, alarmist words such as socialisation,
nationalisation or confiscation with respect to land), we need to get
Land titles would definitely still exist with Geonomics. People
still have "their" home and "their" privacy, and there's nothing unfair
or unreasonable about that. Indeed, it is a universal human need that
cannot be denied and should not be thwarted. Importantly, land
occupancy requires not so much absolute and outright ownership, but
security of tenure, and as a corollary, the freedom to do as one wishes
with the site, within the limits of course, of existing social mores.
Whether building a house, enrolling your kids in the nearby school, or
just wanting to contribute towards building up a neighbourhood, you
would want to know that you would be able to occupy your home site for
as long as you wished. Hence, your name would still be on a register of
land titles, and no one could compulsorily buy or force you out as long
as you paid your community dues in the form of LVT. Council by-laws
allowing, you could even put up fences and "Keep Out" signs. All the
trappings of present-day land ownership would still be there.
WHAT IS OWNERSHIP?
But what does "ownership" really mean?
- Do we own our income if the government takes a big cut of
it and calls it taxation?
- Are we all part-owners of urban infrastructure and
- Do we fully own our cars if we have to pay registration
insurance, or if we are subject to all sorts of restrictions on their
- Can we be said to fully own our personal assets if
inheritance taxes take a big chunk of their value when we drop off the
- If you employ people, can you say that you own part of
their time (and that you own them to a degree)?
The point is that the concept of
ownership is not always black and white, and the same applies to land
On the one hand, occupiers of land would be owners in the sense
they would have the legal security of tenure as well as all the privacy
and personal liberty today accruing to home ownership. On the other
hand, occupiers would be required to discharge their dues to the
community for their exclusive occupancy of land, the value of which
they did not produce. So with Geonomics, what people do not "own" is
the community-created benefits of the land they occupy, for which they
would have to pay.
BUT WHAT'S YOURS IS YOURS!
But don't forget these important points. Occupiers will
own outright their houses and other improvements to their homes - and
they would never get penalised for improvements through local rates,
which today are often partly based on the value of improvements. Nor
will people see a part of their income or purchases confiscated through
the tax system. Effectively, we would all become co-owners of all the
land and natural resources, as the rent from them is pooled into the
community coffers for the benefit of all. By some calculations we could
even receive a considerable Citizen's Dividend from the unspent surplus.
What about those who might be disadvantaged by the introduction
Geonomics? It should be stressed that there would be few such people,
but there would be a few deserving types who would qualify for schemes
(too detailed to mention here) such as limited compensation or deferral
of LVT for some on valuable land with low incomes and too old or
incapacitated for employment. There is no reason why other types of
pensions and disability payments would need to change.
another man has no land, my title to mine, and your title to yours, is
at once vitiated." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, (1803 -1882), noted
American poet and essayist ... Read the
Lindy Davies: Land
We were talking about the tendency for landowners to use land as an investment — a
sensible thing to do — not to use it now if they don't need to, but to
think in terms of enjoying its increase in value over time. We even identified
that as the key to the problem of poverty. But — good heavens, what
can we do about that? Isn't that just how the economy works? Isn't the private
ownership of land a basic part of a modern economy? How can we do without
an important institution?
Or in other words — won't the poor always be with us?
Not necessarily. It has been plain, since very earliest days of civil society,
that the private ownership of land leads to exploitation and great extremes
of wealth and poverty. And, since the time of the Book of Leviticus, we have
had a pretty good idea of what to do about it. In that book were recorded
the words "The land shall not be sold for ever, for the land is Mine,
for ye are strangers and sojourners with me."
This ideal was codified into a remarkable three-stage program for economic
justice and social harmony: the land laws of Leviticus. The stages were:
1. The Sabbath. Every seventh day was the Lord's day;
people were enjoined to keep it holy and refrain from work. Now, we were
told in Sunday school that this was all about going to church, but, as so
often happens, our teachers missed the deeper significance. Kids who try
to get out of, say, taking out the garbage on the Sabbath realized that the
prohibition was really against gainful work; folks were still allowed to
weed the garden and stuff.
What the Sabbath did was to force people to focus on things that had
meaning beyond striving and striving to get ahead. Indeed, if one did
work on the
Sabbath, while one's neighbors did not, one could become wealthier, at
their expense — which was why the Sabbath was a very big deal:
one of the ten commandments.
2. The Sabbatical. Every seventh year, the fields
were to lie fallow — thus recognizing the right of the earth
itself to be protected against depletion and misuse. And, in the
sabbatical year, debts were to be forgiven. A debt that could not
be paid off
after six years was well on the way to becoming a usurious burden,
a guaranteed flow from the labors of one into the coffers of another.
The canceling of debts in the seventh year was designed to ensure
that nobody got too far ahead, or too far behind.
3. The Jubilee. Even seven times seven years (actually,
every 50th year), each family could return to its original allotment,
or heritage, of land — even if it had been sold in the meantime.
Under biblical law, then, land could not be sold for ever — never
for more than a single generation.
Now it is interesting to note that the economic vision presented in the
bible is not a precursor of communism. Two of the ten commandments explicitly
the institution of private property, and the prophets consistently railed
against landlords and rulers who robbed the people of the fruits of their
laws of Leviticus, which Jesus said he "came not to destroy but to fulfill," envisioned
a community in which everyone was secure in his own home and property, "beneath
his vine and fig tree".
(Incidentally, the quote on the American Liberty Bell, from Leviticus,
chapter 25, was a direct reference to these principles : "Proclaim liberty throughout
the land and to all the people thereof." It was a reference to the Jubilee,
and the freedom it provided was from debt and servitude.)
The division is clear: there is to be a sacred right of private property
in the things that are made by people. But people were not to own the things
that were made by God. The 7th commandment sums up both principles in 4 words: Thou
shalt not steal.
Modern society has looked away from these principles, calling them quaint,
naive, inapplicable to the complexities of our time — yet, modern society
finds itself mired in chronic economic and social problems for which it can
find no solutions — and which threaten to pull down all the advances
of civilization into a dark age — occasioned by some combination of
war, financial implosion or ecological collapse.
If there is any way out of this dark future, it can only come by way of solving
the problem of land and justice.
Fortunately, there exists a plan for that.
This plan takes the shape of a "fiscal reform", because it applies
a definition of the relationship between the individual and the society that
is consistent with both economic efficiency and moral law. It calls for us
to respect the right of labor to create and to save wealth, and we acknowledge
that the value of land is created not by its “owners”, but by
the entire community.
Therefore, we will abolish all taxes on income, products and sales — and
collect the full rental value of land and other natural resources for public
revenue. ... read
the whole speech
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
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
Weld Carter: An Introduction to
The Ethics of Property
Any discussion of Henry George
should include a consideration of
his ethical ideas, for throughout his works the question of right and
wrong is dominant. In Progress and
Poverty, for instance, he struck
'. ..whatever dispute arouses the
passions of men, the conflict is
sure to rage, not so much as to the question 'Is it wise?' as to the
question 'Is it right?'. ..I bow to this arbitrament, and accept this
George wrote as a social
philosopher. Therefore his preoccupation
in the field of ethics was with the relations of man to man, rather
than with man himself -- with stealing rather than with
thriftlessness. This necessarily involves the matter of property and
Once again, the student will find
George's analysis to be based on
the differences inherent in the two categories of land and products.
"The real and natural distinction is between things which are the
produce of labor and things which are the gratuitous offerings of
nature. ...These two classes of things are in essence and relations
widely different, and to class them together as property is to
confuse all thought when we come to consider the justice or the
injustice, the right or the wrong of property."
What is the moral basis of
Is it not, primarily, the right of
a man to himself, to the use of
his own powers, to the enjoyment of the fruits of his own exertions?
... As a man belongs to himself, so his labor when put in concrete
form belongs to him.
And for this reason, that which a
man makes or produces is his
own, as against all the world -- to enjoy or to destroy, to use, to
exchange, or to give. No one else can rightfully claim it, and his
exclusive right to it involves no wrong to anyone else. Thus there is
to everything produced by human exertion a clear and indisputable
title to exclusive possession and enjoyment, which is perfectly
consistent with justice, as it descends from the original producer.
Here is a justification for
private property in products. But what
of land, which is not produced by man? Is there any other basis from
which a justification for private property in land might be derived?
In addition, is there anything in the right of private property in
products which precludes the right of private property in land?
George explains, "Now this [the
right of the individual to the
use of his own faculties] is not only the original source from
which all ideas of exclusive ownership arise ... but it is
necessarily the only source. There can be to the ownership of
anything no rightful title which is not derived from the title of the
producer and does not rest upon the natural right of the man to
himself. There can be no other rightful title, because (lst) there is
no other natural right from which any other title can be derived, and
(2nd) because the recognition of any other title is inconsistent with
and destructive of this."
To substantiate the first reason
he further said,
acknowledges no ownership or control
in man save as the result of exertion. In no other way can her
treasures be drawn forth, her powers directed, or her forces utilized
or controlled. ...All men to her stand upon an equal footing and have
equal rights. She recognizes no claim but that of labor, and recognizes
that without respect to the claimant. If a pirate spread his sails, the
wind will fill them as well as it will fill those of a peaceful
merchantman. ...The laws of nature are the decrees of the Creator.
There is written in them no recognition of any right save that of
labor; and in them is written broadly and clearly the equal right of
all men to the use and enjoyment of nature; to apply to her by their
exertions, and to receive and possess her reward. Hence, as nature
gives only to labor, the exertion of labor in production is the only
title to exclusive possession (1879, rpt. 1958, pp. 335-36).
As to the second reason he said:
right of ownership that springs from
labor excludes the possibility of any other right of ownership. ...If
production give to the producer the right to exclusive possession and
enjoyment, there can rightfully be no exclusive possession and
enjoyment of anything not the production of labor, and the recognition
of private property in land is a wrong. For the right to the produce of
labor cannot be enjoyed without the right to the free use of the
opportunities offered by nature, and to admit the right of property in
these is to deny the right of property in the produce of labor. When
nonproducers can claim as rent a portion of the wealth created by
producers, the right of the producers to the fruits of their labor is
to that extent denied (1879, rpt. 1958, p. 336).
Private property in land,
according to George, is unjust because
it lets owners of land refuse access to land, and thereby threatens
livelihood and life itself. Private property in land is also unjust
because it enables owners of land to levy toll on production for the
use of land; therefore it is robbery. So another difference between
products and land, in George's view, is that private property in
products is right, and private property in land is wrong.... read
the whole article
Lindy Davies: Ownership and
President Bush's announcement of his vision for an "ownership society"
met with thunderous cheers at the Republican Convention, and much
eye-rolling elsewhere. The Bush Administration would like to start by
encouraging private ownership of our retirement funds and our
health-care decisions. They want to get the heavy hand of government
out of such things and unleash the tremendous efficiency of millions
upon millions of Self-Interested Individual Actors, the husky,
brawling, broad-shouldered capitalism that made this country great.
Prosperity depends on the security of private property and the potency
of individual initiative! This is the self-evident truth that has been
obscured by Hollywood Socialists, Democratic Girlie-men and purveyors
of the Homosexual Agenda.
We should realize, however, that this is hardly a new initiative. It is
really just the latest wave of an argument that has raged throughout
the history of the United States, about just what -- if anything -- and
on what basis -- if any -- the government can require us to surrender
what we possess. There are some people out there -- and actually a fair
number, after all -- who don't view the Bush Administration's
privatization proposals as extremist at all -- but, rather, too soft.
Unfortunately, though, the law is not at all clear. Thomas Jefferson
fudged the topic in the United States Declaration of Independence,
inserting "the pursuit of happiness" where people expected the more
loaded term "property". The Bill of Rights, however, is strong on
property rights. It provides for security of "persons, houses, papers,
and effects," that "private property shall not be taken for public use
without just compensation" and that rights not specifically prohibited
are reserved to the states or to the people. In fact, the US
Constitution was so bullish on property that it provided for private
property in human beings, a principle made explicit in Dred Scott vs.
Sandford and many other cases.
Slavery was made unconstitutional by means of the 13th Amendment
1865. This, however, left much to be resolved, and the Congress had a
very difficult job -- perhaps, in strictly logical terms, an impossible
job -- in drafting Amendment number fourteen. ...
The 14th amendment reaffirms the rights of life, liberty and property,
and binds the states to the same due process and equal protection
restrictions as the federal government. However, it places the
Constitution's first limit on the right of property, stating that the
United States or any state shall not pay "any claim for the loss or
emancipation of any slave". This could be seen as somewhat fishy in
terms of the Fifth Amendment. After all the 13th amendment had taken
the slaveholders' property three years before. Had not the Supreme
Court ruled that slaves were property and had to be returned to their
owners, even if they escaped to non-slaveholding states?
Although it would have been impracticable (to say the least) to enforce
the Takings Clause to the tune of the market value of some four
human beings, that was what the Constitution required the government to
The next amendment to the Constitution following the Reconstruction
Amendments was another milestone in the debate over property rights.
The 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, allows Congress to “lay and
collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived” -- contravening
the restriction of this practice that had been laid out in Article I.
The “from whatever source derived” part has been making people scream
bloody murder ever since. ...
The original advocates of the income tax (many of them Single Taxers)
sought to tax accumulation, not industry and initiative. They saw that
the massive concentration of wealth among a privileged few was harmful
to the nation, and they persuaded the states to accept a progressive
tax that would compel robber barons to pay for public goods while
letting entrepreneurs gain from their contributions to overall
prosperity. And yet, over
the years, a tax on income “from whatever
source derived” came, one loophole at a time, to be a tax on exactly
those productive, hardworking, middle-class people that it was designed
to help. ...
In most people's minds, after all, land is the most solid and important
kind of property; in fact, the word "property" in general conversation
most often means "land". However, it has long been recognized that
sometimes privately-held land must be taken for public purposes. The
principle of eminent domain is not (particularly) controversial. If the
state wants to put a highway through your house, it must pay you the
fair market value of your property. ...
This decision was important because it extended the Takings doctrine
beyond physical seizure to the taking of value -- but it was also
relatively uncontroversial in that the state legislature had removed
all of the parcel's market value. ...
If government were to be held liable for every single action that took
away a portion of real estate value, it could scarcely do anything at
all. That might be how some of the most strident militia-folk would
like it. However, it would certainly not suit real estate owners in
general -- who, while they might not enjoy paying for government, do
benefit from the things that government does.
What the property-rights folks are forgetting (or disregarding) is that
if a piece of land has a market value, that means that the net benefits
conferred upon it by the community (which includes the government) are
greater than the net costs. Location value is far and away the most
important component of land value -- and location value is almost
entirely the result of services and infrastructure that the government
It's no accident that the issue of "regulatory takings" is such a stew
of contradictions. Indeed, the terms of the argument deny the
possibility of coherence (in much the same way as they did in 1868).
Land is not the fruit of
human labor, and its value is not the result
of any actions taken by its owner. Therefore, private property in land
is an entirely different sort of phenomenon than private property in
the products of labor -- and as long as the law fails to recognize this
fact, it cannot hope to make sense of the issue of "regulatory takings".
It could be suggested that "the conditions of the grant" could, without
doing any violence to the secure right of private property, require the
payment to the community of the land's rental value, to cover the cost
of the community's expenses which, it turn, provide the land's value in
the first place. That would, of course, require a clearer definition of
the moral basis of property that the United States has ever been able
to come to. Yet -- think of
it for a moment -- what would have happened
if the original Bill of Rights had articulated the individual's
absolute right to property only in the products of labor -- and the
community's right to the community-created value of the land?
It would have saved us an awful lot of trouble. True, the "slavery"
states would have balked at joining the union under those rules. But
under them, the nation would have been so prosperous that they would
quite soon have seen the advantage of joining. We would have avoided
the Civil War, and probably even World War I -- it is dazzling to think
about how different -- and vastly better -- our history would have
been, had the Framers taken the brave step of setting forth the moral
basis of property along these lines.
It's interesting that we use the word "own" to mean two different
things: the sense of possession, and the sense of personal
acknowledgment, as in "owning up" to one's responsibilities. The
relationship between the two was once closer than it now seems to be;
the word "ought" is an archaic past participle of "owe". As we consider
how to arrange our "ownership society", we'd do well to remember what
we "ought" -- and bring the two senses of the word back together.
Read the whole article
Nic Tideman: Global Economic Justice, followed
Global Economic Justice
summarize George's rights-based theory of justice: Each person
has an exclusive right to his or her productive powers. We
this intuitively, and on this basis accept the idea that people own
what they produce. But if this is
what ownership means, then no one
can claim to own land, since no one produced it. People do have
rights to the productive opportunities that nature offers, which are
here for our use, but the rights of each person are limited by the
equal rights of all other persons.
the whole article
Nic Tideman: The Shape of a World
Inspired by Henry George
How would the world look if its
political institutions were
shaped by the conception of social justice advanced by Henry
Jeff Smith and Kris Nelson: Giving
Life to the Property Tax Shift (PTS)
John Muir is right. "Tug on any
thing and find it connected to everything else in the universe." Tug on
the property tax and find it connected to urban slums, farmland loss,
political favoritism, and unearned equity with disrupted neighborhood
tenure. Echoing Thoreau, the more familiar reforms have failed to
address this many-headed hydra at its root. To think that the root
could be chopped by a mere shift in the property tax base -- from
buildings to land -- must seem like the epitome of unfounded faith. Yet
the evidence shows that state and local tax activists do have a
powerful, if subtle, tool at their disposal. The "stick" spurring
efficient use of land is a higher tax rate upon land, up to even the
site's full annual value. The "carrot" rewarding efficient use of land
is a lower or zero tax rate upon improvements. ...
What's won or lost is a value generated by
society. That is, land rises in value
These factors driving land value are not
improvements made by
lone owners but by the entire community. The closest correlation to
land value is density and no one person creates that. Hence the site
value levy merely puts public values in the public treasury for public
benefit, as untaxing homes, sales, and income leaves
privately-generated values in private pockets.
- where a new resource is
discovered (during a gold rush, more money is made by land developers
than by prospectors),
- where population grows (see the Sun
- where technology advances (witness
the land values
in the various Silicon Valleys, Forests, etc),
- where infrastructure
expands (e.g., near a new road or sewer), and
- where society cooperates
(e.g., in communities that organize street fairs, neighborhood watches,
"Home equity" (actually, site equity), the only equity most people
have, would be consumed by the land dues. Eventho' the complete geonomic
tax shift would let people improve their homes, increase their incomes,
expand their businesses, and augment their savings without increasing
their tax liability, homeowners would still lose their "home equity."
Proponents need to lead off with the bottom line and underscore the
fact that even with lost equity, numbers show a vast majority would pay
less were taxes shifted. Those savings could be invested in stocks or
bonds for an equivalent return. And were the new policy to include a
per capita rebate, then the geonomic package would merely convert one's
expected equity into a certain annuity. Instead of cashing in one big
lump sum later, residents would be cashing in smaller amounts all along.
A big problem needs a big solution which in turn
matching shift of our prevailing paradigm. Geonomics -- advocating that
we share the social value of sites and natural resources and untax
earnings -- does just that. Read the whole article
Jeff Smith Share
Rent, Transform Society
If society decided to share
among its members all the
annual value of society's sites and resources and air space, what
... It doesn't matter who owns
matters is who gets the rent. We have millions of acres of
forest we Americans own together, and we are losing rent on it.
What other social relations might change? Increase land
ownership participation in community and it benefits community, with
town hall meetings and block parties. Those kinds of communities have
less crime. Read the whole article
Bill Batt: The
Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
Hence it becomes important,
critically important, to understand the
meaning of “ownership” and “property” in the Georgist lexicon. But it
is not difficult, for they continue to have their classical meanings,
just as for John Locke, Adam Smith, and all the major forerunners and
thinkers of classical economics until the advent of neoclassical
economics. What was the meaning of ownership and property in their
classical sense? Property was the product of human labor and capital,
and that alone. Items of property were household goods, personal
attire, armaments, and similar such goods. Property belonged in the
category of capital. Land was not part of property, but rather was its
own category. Land, broadly defined,
belonged to everyone and was the common heritage of all humanity.15 One could no more “own” land than one
could own water, air, or other parts of nature, at least in the sense
of ownership that people often use today. Much like the
native-American concept of ownership, it was part of what was
classically called “ the commons.” 16 “What
is this you call property?” Massasoit, a leader of the Wampanoag, asked
the Plymouth colonists whom he had befriended in the 1620s. “It cannot
be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children,
beasts, birds, fish, and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on
it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say
it belongs to him?” 17
Indeed Georgists see a moral equivalency between monopoly ownership of
land and nature and the ownership of slaves!
Georgists' assumptions about property ownership rest upon
profoundly different from their conventional use in western society —
indeed increasingly in world society. In the discourse of legal
philosophy, the notion of property and ownership are better understood
as a collection of legal rights and responsibilities among people; for
example, the right to possess, to use, to capitalize, to manage, and to
retain the income from such.18 If
one disaggregates these rights, one has a far clearer understanding of
the potential array of socio-economic arrangements that are possible.
The primary distinction to Georgists is that between ownership for use
and ownership for gain. More will be said about the merit of this
division at a later point, but it should be noted even here that the
distinction is ancient,19 and
has had expression at various times in human history long before the
appearance of Henry George. Two sets of contrasting terms are often
employed to distinguish the separate notions of ownership:
- leasehold versus freehold, or
- usufruct title versus fee-simple title.
In fact compensation for land held in usufruct was far more often in
kind than it was in money. Typically, in Middle Eastern as well as in
Asian societies, a percentage of a crop or of other products gained
from the land were accepted as just payment for its use, paid usually
to a king or nobleman in exchange for services which they in turn were
expected to provide. This usually meant the protection against ravaging
bands, arbitration of disputes, provision of sustenance in times of
emergency, and so on. The pattern of leasehold ownership with either
in-kind services, goods, or later fees paid to lords and kings is the
hallmark feature of feudalism, widely known not only in the European
past but throughout Asia and prehistoric Central American
In the Georgist context a
has the right to ownership of land in usufruct, but not in fee simple.
As long as an owner uses land and other elements of nature in accord
with the rules and laws of society, one retains a possessory interest. That
interest extends to the privilege to use land for all purposes
consistent with its proper maintenance and care. It extends even in
some cases to the right to preclude others from any trespass at all. But what it typically does not include is
the right to any speculative gain that would follow from title in
freehold, or the right to use land beyond what it is capable of
sustaining. Use implies that its quality is not diminished for
the future availability of others, and that there is an obligation for
the user to pay to society a just price in exchange for such use. One
had no right, for example, to strip a forest of its trees. Enough is
known now about the arrangements of land ownership and use in
comparative perspective to assert with confidence that the historical
practice of title in fee simple or freehold has been far more the
exception than rule.20
Taking the long view of history, title in usufruct has been by far the
more common pattern of ownership of natural resources, except where
Roman jurisprudence and its offspring have spread throughout the world
and come to dominate. ...
The justice in the Georgist tradition grows out of the premise
is entitled to what one makes with one’s own hands or mind, but one is
not personally entitled to the gains that grow out of communal efforts.
Those are owed to and should be returned to the community. The justice
inherent in ecological economics, to the extent that it has solidified,
involves a recognition that preservation of natural capital is in the
interest of everyone. Both recognize and value the preservation of a
world commons in nature. Both appreciate the diversity preserved in
local community institutions and cultures. Both accept models based on
self-regulating assumptions — in one case using the phrase “steady
state” economics, in the other case the recovery of land rent in the
pursuit of open and stable markets over monopoly control. There is
great promise in the confluence of the two perspectives: they offer a
solution to the age-old challenge of resolving what in the world ought
to be public and common, and what else ought to be individual and
private. It remains now for proponents of each perspective to continue
Alternatives that have been tried in the past, both classic capitalism
and socialism, suggest that neither has served the interests of
humanity well in the long term. Ecological economics has no theory of
property as such, and Georgism here offers a proven course of
application. To Georgists, ownership is linked to use and not to
freehold title. Holding individual property under license of the
community, and under terms which the community stipulates, is an idea
with a long tradition, well accepted, and needing only to be revived in
contemporary political, legal and economic discourse. Combined with the
pricing device of collecting land rent, ecological economics will have
a tool by which to circumscribe and even reverse the centrifugal forces
of a new economic imperialism. This is truly the beginning of a “Third
Way” when other theories seem to be moribund.... read the whole article
Mason Gaffney: 18 Fallacies
2. "Real Property
is Sacred and Untouchable"
Wrong! Suppose this layman writer and the Oregon Chief Justice
were in error, and water permits were real property. That is out of
the frying pan, into the fire.
What does 'real' mean, applied
to property or estate? It is not
the opposite of 'imaginary.' No, 'real' is an elided English form of
the French 'regal' taken into English when English kings spoke their
native French. Real property is The King's.
We threw out kings in 1783, but
not the royal powers. Rather, we
transferred those powers to our State governments. By succession,
real property means government property!
Every landowner is a tenant of the
king or his successors in
interest. The very word 'own' comes from 'owe.' An owner is one
who owes. What he owed historically was fealty to his sovereign.
That used to mean bending the
knee, kissing the royal foot,
swearing allegiance, and showing up on demand to smite the enemy.
It has evolved into servitudes
like eminent domain, police
power, the public trust doctrine, and something else that our lawyers
may have glided over, but economists underline: the tax power.
These concepts are basic to common
law which has been brought into
every U.S. state constitution (save Louisiana's). Moses was not just
whistling Dixie when he quoted The Lord as saying "The land shall not
be sold forever; for the land is mine, and ye are strangers and
sojourners with me."
Chief Seattle would have approved.
So would Brigham Young, who
founded the once-independent nation of Deseret on that principle.
Moses was also speaking just as
William the Norman spoke after
conquered England, except that Moses was also a theocrat. "You hold
title to this land from me; observe my rules."
That's the law we have inherited;
that's how the system works. In
one form or another it is found around the world, except in the minds
abstract economic theorists like those of the Chicago School.
the whole article
of Land Value Taxation to Problems of Environmental Protection, Congestion, Efficient
Population, and Economic Growth
The idea that natural opportunities are
everyone's common heritage is often defended with religious language. John
Whether we consider natural reason,
which tells us that men, being once born, have a right to their preservation,
and consequently to meat and drink, and such other things as nature affords
for their sustenance, or revelation, which gives us an account of those grants
God made of the world to Adam, and to Noah, and his sons, 'tis very clear
that God, as King David says, Psal. CXV. xvi. has given the Earth to the
children of men, given it to mankind in common.2
John Locke did not advocate land value taxation.
Writing in about 1690, he said that there was so much unclaimed land in America
that no one could properly complain about the private appropriation of land
in Europe.3 Writing nearly
200 year later, when it was becoming impossible for people to appropriate
good unclaimed land in America, Henry George said:
If we are all here by the equal
permission of the creator, we are all here with an equal title to the enjoyment
of his bounty -- with an equal right to the use of all that nature so impartially
offers. This is a right which is natural and inalienable; it is a right which
vests in every human being as he enters the world, and which during his continuance
in the world can be limited only by the equal rights of others. There is
in nature no such thing as a fee simple in land. There is on earth no power
which can rightfully make a grant of exclusive ownership in land. If all
existing men were to unite to grant away their equal rights, they could not
grant away the right of those who follow them.
George preceded this argument with a psychological
and linguistic one. He said that our conception
of property, of a right of exclusive possession, is based on the idea that
each person has a right to his or her productive powers, and therefore to
what he or she produces. Since no one produced land, no one can properly
claim to own it.
This psychological and linguistic argument
is not entirely convincing. It seems clear that humans, like other species,
have an impulse toward the appropriation and defense of territory. Natural
selection has worked in favor of those who are skilled in appropriating natural
opportunities and deterring others from encroaching on them. It seems possible
that, as a way of limiting violence, humans have merged an idea of ownership
based on production with an idea of ownership based on the ability to appropriate
territory and deter encroachment.If this is the social and biological reality,
then there is a different argument for treating natural opportunities as
everyone's common heritage. ... Read the entire article
Henry George: The
Land Question (1881)
The galleys that carried Caesar to Britain, the accoutrements of his legionaries,
the baggage that they carried, the arms that they bore, the buildings that
they erected; the scythed chariots of the ancient Britons, the horses that
drew them, their wicker boats and wattled houses–where are they now?
But the land for which Roman and Briton fought, there it is still. That
British soil is yet as fresh and as new as it was in the days of the Romans.
after generation has lived on it since, and generation after generation
will live on it yet. Now, here is a very great difference. The right to
and to pass on the ownership of things that in their nature decay and soon
cease to be is a very different thing from the right to possess and to
pass on the ownership of that which does not decay, but from which each
generation must live.
To show how this difference between land and such other species of property
as are properly styled wealth bears upon the argument for the vested rights
of landholders, let me illustrate again.
Captain Kidd was a pirate. He made a business of sailing the seas, capturing
merchantmen, making their crews walk the plank, and appropriating their cargoes.
In this way he accumulated much wealth, which he is thought to have buried.
But let us suppose, for the sake of the illustration, that he did not bury
but left it to his legal heirs, and they to their heirs and so on, until
at the present day this wealth or a part of it has come to a great-great-grandson
Captain Kidd. Now, let us suppose
that some one – say a great-great-grandson of one of the shipmasters whom
Captain Kidd plundered, makes complaint, and says: "This man's great-great-grandfather
plundered my great-great-grandfather of certain things or certain sums, which
have been transmitted to him, whereas but for this wrongful act they would have
been transmitted to me; therefore, I demand that he be made to
restore them." What would society answer?
Society, speaking by its proper tribunals, and in accordance with principles
recognized among all civilized nations, would say: "We cannot entertain such
a demand. It may be true that Mr. Kidd's great-great-grandfather robbed your
great-great-grandfather, and that as the result of this wrong he has got
things that otherwise might have come to you. But we cannot inquire into
that happened so long ago. Each generation has enough to do to attend to
its own affairs. If we go to righting the wrongs and reopening the controversies
of our great-great-grandfathers, there will be endless disputes and pretexts
for dispute. What you say may be true, but somewhere we must draw the line,
and have an end to strife. Though this man's great-great-grandfather may
robbed your great-great-grandfather, he has not robbed you. He came into
possession of these things peacefully, and has held them peacefully, and
we must take
this peaceful possession, when it has been continued for a certain time,
as absolute evidence of just title; for, were we not to do that, there would
no end to dispute and no secure possession of anything."
Now, it is this common-sense principle that is expressed in the statute
of limitations – in the doctrine of vested rights. This is the reason why it is held – and as
to most things held justly – that peaceable possession for
a certain time cures all defects of title.
But let us pursue the illustration a little further:
Let us suppose that Captain Kidd, having established a large and profitable
piratical business, left it to his son, and he to his son, and so on, until
the great-great-grandson, who now pursues it, has come to consider it the most
natural thing in the world that his ships should roam the sea, capturing peaceful
merchantmen, making their crews walk the plank, and bringing home to him much
plunder, whereby he is enabled, though he does no work at all, to live in very
great luxury, and look down with contempt upon people who have to work. But
at last, let us suppose, the merchants get tired of having their ships sunk
and their goods taken, and sailors get tired of trembling for their lives every
time a sail lifts above the horizon, and they demand of society that piracy
Now, what should society say if Mr. Kidd got indignant, appealed to the
doctrine of vested rights, and asserted that society was bound to prevent
with the business that he had inherited, and that, if it wanted him to
stop, it must buy him out, paying him all that his business was worth–that
is to say, at least as much as he could make in twenty years' successful
pirating, so that if he stopped pirating he could still continue to live
in luxury off
of the profits of the merchants and the earnings of the sailors?
What ought society to say to such a claim as this? There will be but one answer.
We will all say that society should tell Mr. Kidd that his was a business to
which the statute of limitations and the doctrine of vested rights did not
apply; that because his father, and his grandfather, and his great- and great-great-grandfather
pursued the business of capturing ships and making their crews walk the plank,
was no reason why lie should be permitted to pursue it. Society, we will all
agree, ought to say he would have to stop piracy and stop it at once, and that
without getting a cent for stopping.
Or supposing it had happened that Mr. Kidd had sold out his piratical business
to Smith, Jones, or Robinson, we will all agree that society ought to say that
their purchase of the business gave them no greater right than Mr. Kidd had.
We will all agree that that is what society ought to say. Observe, I do not
ask what society would say.
For, ridiculous and preposterous as it may appear, I am satisfied that,
under the circumstances I have supposed, society would not for a long time
we have agreed it ought to say. Not only would all the Kidds loudly claim
that to make them give up their business without full recompense would be
interference with vested rights, but the justice of this claim would at
first be assumed as a matter of course by all or nearly all the influential
great lawyers, the able journalists, the writers for the magazines, the
eloquent clergymen, and the principal professors in the principal universities.
even the merchants and sailors, when they first began to complain, would
be so tyrannized and browbeaten by this public opinion that they would hardly
think of more than of buying out the Kidds, and, wherever here and there
one dared to raise his voice in favor of stopping piracy at once and without
compensation, he would only do so under penalty of being stigmatized as
a reckless disturber and wicked foe of social order.
If any one denies this, if any one says mankind are not such fools, then I
appeal to universal history to bear me witness. I appeal to the facts of to-day.
Show me a wrong, no matter how monstrous, that ever yet, among any people,
became ingrafted in the social system, and I will prove to you the truth of
what I say. ...
What is the slave-trade but piracy of the worst kind? Yet it is not long since
the slave-trade was looked upon as a perfectly respectable business, affording
as legitimate an opening for the investment of capital and the display of enterprise
as any other. The proposition to prohibit it was first looked upon as ridiculous,
then as fanatical, then as wicked. It was only slowly and by hard fighting
that the truth in regard to it gained ground. Does not our very Constitution
bear witness to what I say? Does not the fundamental law of the nation, adopted
twelve years after the enunciation of the Declaration of Independence, declare
that for twenty years the slave-trade shall not be prohibited nor restricted?
Such dominion had the idea of vested interests over the minds of those who
had already proclaimed the inalienable right of man to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness! ... read the whole article
Nic Tideman: The Case for Site Value Rating
In primitive societies, land is generally regarded as not ownable. No one
made the land, so how can anyone own it? Ownership generally originates in
conquest. In England, titles to land originated in the claim of William the
Conqueror to own all the land because he was king. He granted to dukes, earls,
etc. the right to collect rent from designated territories in exchange for
their promises to fulfill various obligations to him. In the seventeenth century
the nobility succeeded in removing all of their obligations to the crown, but
they retained their rights to land. A substantial part of the great inequality
in wealth in the United Kingdom can be traced to ancient patents of nobility
that granted rights to collect rent.
One highly visible consequence of allowing land rents to be privately appropriated
is that young people find it nearly impossible to buy houses. The price of
a "house," in the Southeast of Britain at least, is primarily the price of
land. If the rent of land were collected publicly, the price of land would
be inconsequential, and the price of a house would be the cost of the materials
and labour that went into building it. It should be recognized that if the
site value of land were taxed, the payment of such taxes would make it more
expensive to live in large cities than in small towns, but young people would
be better able to afford it because other taxes would be reduced, and the
mortgages to which people would need to commit themselves would not be nearly
The justice of collecting the rent of land can be generalized to the justice
of collecting a fee for any privilege that governments grant to some individuals
and not others. ... read the whole article
Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)
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 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
Peter Barnes: Capitalism
3.0 — Chapter 2: A Short History of Capitalism (pages 15-32)
In the beginning, the commons was everywhere. Humans and other animals roamed
around it, hunting and gathering. Like other species, we had territories,
but these were tribal, not individual.
About ten thousand years ago, human agriculture and permanent settlements
arose, and with them came private property. Rulers granted ownership of land
to heads of families (usually males). Often, military conquerors distributed
land to their lieutenants. Titles could then be passed to heirs — typically,
oldest sons got everything.
In Europe, Roman law codified many of these practices. Despite the growth
in private property, much land in Europe remained part of the commons. In
Roman times, bodies of water, shorelines, wildlife, and air were explicitly
classified as res communes, resources available to all. During the Middle
Ages, kings and feudal lords often claimed title to rivers, forests, and
wild animals, only to have such claims periodically rebuked. The Magna Carta,
which King John of England was forced to sign in 1215, established forests
and fisheries as res communes. Given that forests were sources of game, firewood,
building materials, medicinal herbs, and grazing for livestock, this was
no small shift.
In the seventeenth century, John Locke sought to balance the commons and
private property. Like others of his era, he saw that private property doesn’t
exist in a vacuum; it exists in relationship to a commons, vis-à-vis
which there are takings and leavings. The rationale for private property
is that it boosts economic production, but the commons has a rationale, too:
it provides sustenance for all. Both sides must be respected.
Locke believed that God gave the earth to “mankind in common,” but
that private property is justified because it spurs humans to work. Whenever
a person mixes his labor with nature, he “joins to it something that
is his own, and thereby makes it his property.” But here Locke added
an important proviso: “For this labor being the unquestionable property
of the laborer,” he wrote, “no man but he can have a right to
what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good,
left in common for others.” In other words, a person can acquire property,
but there’s a limit to how much he or she can rightfully appropriate.
That limit is set by two considerations: first, it should be no more than
he can join his labor to, and second, it has to leave “enough and as
good” in common for others. This was consistent with English common
law at the time, which held, for example, that a riparian landowner could
withdraw water for his own use, but couldn’t diminish the supply available
Despite Locke’s quest for balance, the English commons didn’t
last. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the movement to enclose
and privatize it accelerated greatly. According to historian Karl Polanyi,
this enclosure was the great transformation that launched the modern era.
Local gentry, backed by Parliament, fenced off village lands and converted
them to private holdings. Impoverished peasants then drifted to cities and
became industrial workers. Landlords invested their agricultural profits
in manufacturing, and modern times, economically speaking, began.
One observer of this transformation was Thomas Paine, America’s pro-independence
pamphleteer. Seeing how enclosure of the commons benefited a few and disinherited
many others, Paine proposed a remedy — not a reversal of enclosure,
which he considered necessary for economic reasons, but compensation for
Like Locke, Paine believed nature was a gift of God to all. “There
are two kinds of property,” he wrote. “Firstly, natural property,
or that which comes to us from the Creator of the universe — such as
the earth, air, water. Secondly, artificial or acquired property — the
invention of men.” In the latter, he went on, equality is impossible,
but in the former, “all individuals have legitimate birthrights.” Since
such birthrights were diminished by enclosure, there ought to be an “indemnification
for that loss.” ... read
the whole chapter
Peter Barnes: Capitalism
3.0 — Chapter 3: The Limits of Government (pages 33-48)
Three points are worth making here.
- First, ownership isn’t the same thing as trusteeship. Owners of
property — even government owners — have wide latitude to
do whatever they want with it; a trustee does not. Trustees are bound
terms of their trust and by centuries-old principles of trusteeship,
foremost among which is “undivided loyalty” to beneficiaries.
- Second, in a capitalist democracy, the state is a dispenser of many
valuable prizes. Whoever amasses the most political power wins the
most valuable prizes.
The rewards include property rights, friendly regulators, subsidies,
tax breaks, and free or cheap use of the commons. The notion that the
common good” is sadly naive.
- Third, while free marketers are fond of saying that capitalism is a
precondition for democracy, what they neglect to add is that capitalism
also distorts democracy.
Like gravity, its tug is constant. The bigger the concentrations
of capital, the stronger the tug.
We face a disheartening quandary here. Profit-maximizing corporations dominate
our economy. Their programming makes them enclose and diminish common wealth.
The only obvious counterweight is government, yet government is dominated
by these same corporations.
One possible way out of this dilemma is to reprogram corporations — that
is, to make them driven by something other than profit. This, however, is
like asking elephants to dance — they’re just not built to do
it. Corporations are built to make money, and the truth is, as a society
we want them to make money. We’ll look at this further in the next
Another possible way out is to liberate government from corporations, not
just momentarily, but long-lastingly. This is easier said than done. Corporations
have decimated their old adversary, organized labor, and turned the media
into their mouthpiece. Occasionally a breakthrough is made in campaign financing — for
example, corporations are now barred from giving so-called soft money to
political parties — but corporate money soon finds other channels to
flow through. The return on such investments is simply too high to stop them.
Does this mean there’s no hope? I don’t think so. The window
of opportunity is small, but not nonexistent. Throughout American history,
anticorporate forces have come to power once or twice per century. In the
nineteenth century, we had the eras of Jackson and Lincoln; in the twentieth
century, those of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Twenty-first century equivalents
will, I’m sure, arise. It may take a calamity of some sort — another
war, a depression, or an ecological disaster — to trigger the next
anticorporate ascendancy, but sooner or later it will come. Our job is to
be ready when it comes. ... read
the whole chapter
Peter Barnes: Capitalism
3.0 — Chapter 7: Universal Birthrights (pages 101-116)
Dividends from Common Assets
A cushion of reliable income is a wonderful thing. It can be saved for rainy
days or used to pursue happiness on sunny days. It can encourage people to
take risks, care for friends and relatives, or volunteer for community service.
For low-income families, it can pay for basic necessities.
Conversely, the absence of reliable income is a terrible thing. It heightens
anxiety and fear. It diminishes our ability to cope with crises and transitions.
It traps many families on the knife’s edge of poverty, and makes it
harder for the poor to rise.
So why don’t we, as Monopoly does, pay everyone some regular income — not
through redistribution of income, but through predistribution of common property?
One state — Alaska — already does this. As noted earlier, the
Alaska Permanent Fund uses revenue from state oil leases to invest in stocks,
bonds, and similar assets, and from those investments pays yearly dividends
to every resident. Alaska’s model can be extended to any state or nation,
whether or not they have oil. We could, for instance, have an American Permanent
Fund that pays equal dividends to long-term residents of all 50 states. The
reason is, we jointly own many valuable assets.
Recall our discussion about common property trusts. These trusts could crank
down pollution and earn money from selling ever-scarcer pollution permits.
The scarcer the permits get, the higher their prices would go. Less pollution
would equal more revenue. Over time, trillions of dollars could flow into
an American Permanent Fund.
What could we do with that common income? In Alaska the deal with oil revenue
is 75 percent to government and 25 percent to citizens. For an American Permanent
Fund, I’d favor a 50/50 split, because paying dividends to citizens
is so important. Also, when scarce ecosystems are priced above zero, the
cost of living will go up and people will need compensation; this wasn’t,
and isn’t, the case in Alaska. I’d also favor earmarking the
government’s dollars for specific public goods, rather than tossing
them into the general treasury. This not only ensures identifiable public
benefits; it also creates constituencies who’ll defend the revenue
Waste absorption isn’t the only common resource an American Permanent
Fund could tap. Consider also, the substantial contribution society makes
to stock market values. As noted earlier, private corporations can inflate
their value dramatically by selling shares on a regulated stock exchange.
The extra value derives from the enlarged market of investors who can now
buy the corporation’s shares. Given a total stock market valuation
of about $15 trillion, this socially created liquidity premium is worth roughly
At the moment, this $5 trillion gift flows mostly to the 5 percent of the
population that own more than half the private wealth. But if we wanted to,
we could spread it around. We could do that by charging corporations for
using the public trading system, just as investment bankers do. (For those
of you who haven’t been involved in a public stock offering, investment
bankers are like fancy doormen to a free palace. While the public charges
almost nothing to use the capital markets, investment bankers exact hefty
The public’s fee could be in cash or stock. Let’s say we required
publicly traded companies to deposit 1 percent of their shares each year
in the American Permanent Fund for ten years — reaching a total of
10 percent of their shares. This would be our price not just for using a
regulated stock exchange, but also for all the other privileges (limited
liability, perpetual life, copyrights and patents, and so on) that we currently
bestow on private corporations for free.
In due time, the American Permanent Fund would have a diversified portfolio
worth several trillion dollars. Like its Alaskan counterpart, it would pay
equal yearly dividends to everyone. As the stock market rose and fell, so
would everyone’s dividend checks. A rising tide would lift all boats.
America would truly be an “ownership society.”
A Children’s Opportunity Trust
Not long ago, while researching historic documents for this book, I stumbled
across this sentence in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787: “[T]he estates,
both of resident and nonresident proprietors in the said territory, dying
intestate, shall descent to, and be distributed among their children, and
the descendants of a deceased child, in equal parts.” What, I wondered,
was this about?
The answer, I soon learned, was primogeniture — or more precisely,
ending primogeniture in America. Jefferson, Madison, and other early settlers
believed the feudal practice of passing all or most property from father
to eldest son had no place in the New World. This wasn’t about equal
rights for women; that notion didn’t arise until later. Rather, it
was about leveling the economic playing and avoiding a permanent aristocracy.
A nation in which everyone owned some property — in those days, this
meant land — was what Jefferson and his contemporaries had in mind.
In such a society, hard work and merit would be rewarded, while inherited
privilege would be curbed. This vision of America wasn’t wild romanticism;
it seemed quite achievable at the time, given the vast western frontier.
What thwarted it, later, were giveaways of land to speculators and railroads,
the rise of monopolies, and the colossal untaxed fortunes of the robber barons.
Fast-forward to the twenty-first century. Land is no longer the basis for
most wealth; stock ownership is. But Jefferson’s vision of an ownership
society is still achievable. The means for achieving it lies not, as George
W. Bush has misleadingly argued, in the privatization of Social Security
and health insurance, but in guaranteeing an inheritance to every child.
In a country as super-affluent as ours, there’s absolutely no reason
why we can’t do that. (In fact, Great Britain has already done it.
Every British child born after 2002 gets a trust fund seeded by $440 from
the government — $880 for children in the poorest 40 percent of families.
All interest earned by the trust funds is tax-free.)
Let me get personal for a minute. My parents weren’t wealthy; both
were children of penniless immigrants. They worked hard, saved, and invested — and
paid my full tuition at Harvard. Later, they helped me buy a home and start
a business. Without their financial assistance, I wouldn’t have achieved
the success that I have. I, in turn, have set up trust funds for my two sons.
As I did, they’ll have money for college educations, buying their own
homes, and if they choose, starting their own businesses — in other
words, what they need to get ahead in a capitalist system.
As I hope my sons will be, I’m extremely grateful for my economic
good fortune. At the same time, I’m painfully aware that my family’s
good fortune is far from universal. Many second-, third-, and even seventh-generation
Americans have little or no savings to pass on to their heirs. Their children
may receive their parents’ love and tutelage, but they don’t
get the cash needed nowadays for a first-rate education, a down payment on
a house, or a business venture. A few may rise because of extraordinary talent
and luck, but the majority will spend their lives on a treadmill, paying
bills and perhaps tucking a little away for old age. Their sons and daughters,
in turn, will face a similar future.
It doesn’t have to be this way. One can imagine all sorts of government
programs that can help people advance in life — free college and graduate
school, GI bills, housing subsidies, and so on. Such programs, as we know,
come and go, and I prefer more rather than less of them. But the simplest
way to help people advance is to give them what my parents gave me, and what
I’m giving my sons: a cash inheritance. And the surest way to do that
is to build such inheritances into our economic operating system, much the
way Social Security is.
When Jefferson substituted pursuit of happiness for Locke’s property,
he wasn’t denigrating the importance of property. Without presuming
to read his mind, I assume he altered Locke’s wording to make the point
that property isn’t an end in itself, but merely a means to the higher
end of happiness. In fact, the importance he and other Founders placed on
property can be seen throughout the Constitution and its early amendments.
Happiness, they evidently thought, may be the ultimate goal, but property
is darn useful in the pursuit of it.
If this was true in the eighteenth century, it’s even truer in the
twenty-first. The unalienable right to pursue happiness is fairly meaningless
under capitalism without a chunk of capital to get started.
And while Social Security provides a cushion for the back end of life, it
does nothing for the front end. That’s where we need something new.
A kitty for the front end of life has to be financed differently than Social
Security because children can’t contribute in advance to their own
inheritances. But the same principle of intergenerational solidarity can
apply. Consider an intergenerational transfer fund through which departing
souls leave money not just for their own children, but for all children.
This could replace the current inheritance tax, which is under assault in
any case. (As this is written, Congress has temporarily phased out the inheritance
tax as of 2010; a move is afoot to make the phaseout permanent.) Mind you,
I think ending the inheritance tax is a terrible idea; it’s the least
distorting (in the sense of discouraging economic activity) and most progressive
tax possible. It also seems sadly ironic that a nation that began by abolishing
primogeniture is now on the verge of creating a permanent aristocracy of
wealth. That said, if the inheritance tax is eliminated, an intergenerational
transfer fund would be a fitting substitute.
The basic idea is similar to the revenue recycling system of professional
sports. Winners — that is, millionaires and billionaires — would
put money into a kitty (call it the Children’s Opportunity Trust),
to be divided among all children equally, so the next round of economic play
can be more competitive. In this case, the winners will have had a lifetime
to enjoy their wealth, rather than just a single season. When they depart,
half their estates, say, could be passed to their own children, while the
other half would be distributed among all children. Their own offspring would
still start on third base, but others would at least be in the game.
Under this plan, no money would go to the government. Instead, every penny
would go back into the market, through the bank or brokerage accounts (managed
by parents) of newborn children. I’d call these new accounts Individual
Inheritance Accounts; they’d be front-of-life counterparts of Individual
Retirement Accounts. After children turn eighteen, they could withdraw from
their accounts for further education, a first home purchase, or to start
Yes, contributions to the Children’s Opportunity Trust would be mandatory,
at least for estates over a certain size (say $1 or $2 million). But such
end-of-life gifts to society are entirely appropriate, given that so much
of a millionaire’s wealth is, in reality, a gift from society. No one
has expressed this better than Bill Gates Sr., father of the world’s
richest person. “We live in a place which is orderly. It’s a
place where markets work because there’s legal structure to support
them. It’s a place where people can own property and protect it. People
who have the good fortune, the skill, the luck to become wealthy in our country,
simply have a debt to the source of their opportunity.”
I like the link between end-of-life recycling and start-of-life inheritances
because it so nicely connects the passing of one generation with the coming
of another. It also connects those who have received much from society with
those who have received little; there’s justice as well as symmetry
To top things off, I like to think that the contributors — millionaires
and billionaires all — will feel less resentful about repaying their
debts to society if their repayments go directly to children, rather than
to the Internal Revenue Service. They might think of the Children’s
Opportunity Trust as a kind of venture capital fund that makes startup investments
in American children. A venture capital fund assumes nine out of ten investments
won’t pay back, but the tenth will pay back in spades, more than compensating
for the losers. So with the Children’s Opportunity Trust. If one out
of ten children eventually departs this world with an estate large enough
to “pay back” in spades the initial investment, then the trust
will have earned its keep. And who knows? Some of those paying back might
even feel good about it. ... read
the whole chapter
see also: http://www.landandfreedom.org/news/42505.htm