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Robert H. Browne: Abraham Lincoln and the Men of His Time
Henry George: The Land Question (1881)
Either the land of Ireland rightfully belongs to the Irish landlords, or it rightfully belongs to the Irish people; there can be no middle ground. If it rightfully belongs to the landlords, then is the whole agitation wrong, and every scheme for interfering in any way with the landlords is condemned. If the land rightfully belongs to the landlords, then it is nobody else's business what they do with it, or what rent they charge for it, or where or how they spend the money they draw from it, and whoever does not want to live upon it on the landlords' terms is at perfect liberty to starve or emigrate. But if, on the contrary, the land of Ireland rightfully belongs to the Irish people, then the only logical demand is, not that the tenants shall be made joint owners with the landlords, not that it be bought from a smaller class and sold to a larger class, but that it be resumed by the whole people. To propose to pay the landlords for it is to deny the right of the people to it. The real fight for Irish rights must he made outside of Ireland; and, above all things, the Irish agitators ought to take a logical position, based upon a broad, clear principle which can be everywhere understood and appreciated. To ask for tenant-right or peasant proprietorship is not to take such a position; to concede that the landlords ought to be paid is utterly to abandon the principle that the land belongs rightfully to the people.
To admit, as even the most radical of the Irish agitators seem to admit, that the landlords should be paid the value of their lands, is to deny the rights of the people. It is an admission that the agitation is an interference with the just rights of property. It is to ignore the only principle on which the agitation can be justified, and on which it can gather strength for the accomplishment of anything real and permanent. To admit this is to admit that the Irish people have no more right to the soil of Ireland than any outsider. For, any outsider can go to Ireland and buy land, if he will give its market value. To propose to buy out the landlords is to propose to continue the present injustice in another form. They would get in interest on the debt created what they now get in rent. They would still have a lien upon Irish labor.
And why should the landlords be paid? If the land of Ireland belongs of natural right to the Irish people, what valid claim for payment can be set up by the landlords? No one will contend that the land is theirs of natural right, for the day has gone by when men could be told that the Creator of the universe intended his bounty for the exclusive use and benefit of a privileged class of his creatures – that he intended a few to roll in luxury while their fellows toiled and starved for them. The claim of the landlords to the land rests not on natural right, but merely on municipal law – on municipal law which contravenes natural right. And, whenever the sovereign power changes municipal law so as to conform to natural right, what claim can they assert to compensation? Some of them bought their lands, it is true; but they got no better title than the seller had to give. And what are these titles? Titles based on murder and robbery, on blood and rapine – titles which rest on the most atrocious and wholesale crimes. Created by force and maintained by force, they have not behind them the first shadow of right. That Henry II and James I and Cromwell and the Long Parliament had the power to give and grant Irish lands is true; but will any one contend they had the right? Will any one contend that in all the past generations there has existed on the British Isles or anywhere else any human being, or any number of human beings, who had the right to say that in the year 1881 the great mass of Irishmen should be compelled to pay – in many cases to residents of England, France, or the United States – for the privilege of living in their native country and making a living from their native soil? Even if it be said that might makes right; even if it be contended that in the twelfth, or seventeenth, or eighteenth century lived men who, having the power, had therefore the right, to give away the soil of Ireland, it cannot be contended that their right went further than their power, or that their gifts and grants are binding on the men of the present generation. No one can urge such a preposterous doctrine. And, if might makes right, then the moment the people get power to take the land the rights of the present landholders utterly cease, and any proposal to compensate them is a proposal to do a fresh wrong. ... read the whole article
Henry George: Salutatory, from the first issue of The Standard (1887)
H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty, Chapter 5: The Basic Cause of Poverty (in the unabridged: Book V: The Problem Solved)
Mark Twain Archimedes
I know of a mechanical force more powerful than anything the vaunting engineer of Syracuse ever dreamed of. It is the force of land monopoly; it is a screw and lever all in one; it will screw the last penny out of a man's pocket, and bend everything on earth to its own despotic will. Give me the private ownership of all the land, and will I move the earth? No; but I will do more. I will undertake to make slaves of all the human beings on the face of it. Not chattel slaves exactly, but slaves nevertheless. What an idiot I would be to make chattel slaves of them. I would have to find them salts and senna when they were sick, and whip them to work when they were lazy.
No, it is not good enough. Under the system I propose the fools would imagine they were all free. I would get a maximum of results, and have no responsibility whatever. They would cultivate the soil; they would dive into the bowels of the earth for its hidden treasures; they would build cities and construct railways and telegraphs; their ships would navigate the ocean; they would work and work, and invent and contrive; their warehouses would be full, their markets glutted, and:
That everything they made would belong to me.
It would be this way, you see: As I owned all the land, they would of course, have to pay me rent. They could not reasonably expect me to allow them the use of the land for nothing. I am not a hard man, and in fixing the rent I would be very liberal with them. I would allow them, in fact, to fix it themselves. What could be fairer? Here is a piece of land, let us say, it might be a farm, it might be a building site, or it might be something else - if there was only one man who wanted it, of course he would not offer me much, but if the land be really worth anything such a circumstance is not likely to happen. On the contrary, there would be a number who would want it, and they would go on bidding and bidding one against the other, in order to get it. I should accept the highest offer - what could be fairer? Every increase of population, extension of trade, every advance in the arts and sciences would, as we all know, increase the value of land, and the competition that would naturally arise would continue to force rents upward, so much so, that in many cases the tenants would have little or nothing left for themselves. ... Read the whole piece
Mason Gaffney: The Partiality of Indexing Capital Gains
Land value, like slaves and government bonds, meets the security need of asset-holders without their having actually to create capital. High land values doubly check saving.
First, by rising they look like individual income and encourage more drafts on the flow of consumer goods, without adding to supply.
Second, once risen, they satisfy portfolio demands in lieu of real capital. ... read the whole article
Mason Gaffney: Land as a Distinctive Factor of Production
Existence of land value actually lowers saving rates.
i) Land value substitutes for real capital in portfolios and thus lowers the need to create real capital. This is the same effect that historians have noted about the negative effect of slavery on capital formation. It is part of the “wealth effect.” (The other part is lowering incentives to work, and raising incentives to allocate both land and capital to personal pleasure instead of earning cash by serving others.)
High land values may also affect interest rates indirectly by reducing saving and the supply of capital. The existence of high land rents and values, like the ownership of slaves, tends to satisfy the need for accumulation of assets without any actual capital formation.
ii) Rising land prices are net income to individuals. Most of net income is normally consumed. "Equity withdrawal" is a common form that this takes. Another form is letting land appreciation substitute for a capital consumption allowance as capital depreciates. ... read the whole article
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper