Jesus said "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's." And perhaps he was
making a comment about what rightly belonged to Caesar. Caesar was not
part of the community to which Jesus was speaking. What, if anything, was
Caesar's? Was he somehow entitled to a portion of the fruits of the labor
provided by the community? By what right?
Henry George: The Condition
of Labor — An
Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
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.) ...
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
This, like much else that your Holiness says, is masked in the use of the
indefinite terms “private property” and “private owner” — a
want of precision in the use of words that has doubtless aided in the confusion
of your own thought. But the context leaves no doubt that by private property
you mean private property in land, and by private owner, the private owner
The contention, thus made, that private property in land is from
nature, not from man, has no other basis than the confounding of ownership
and the ascription to property in land of what belongs to its contradictory,
property in the proceeds of labor. You do not attempt to show for it any
other basis, nor has any one else ever attempted to do so. That private property
in the products of labor is from nature is clear, for nature gives such things
to labor and to labor alone. Of every article of this kind, we know that
it came into being as nature’s response to the exertion of an individual
man or of individual men — given by nature directly and exclusively
to him or to them. Thus there inheres in such things a right of private property,
which originates from and goes back to the source of ownership, the maker
of the thing. This right is anterior to the state and superior to its enactments,
so that, as we hold, it is a violation of natural right and an injustice
to the private owner for the state to tax the processes and products of labor.
They do not belong to Caesar. They are things that God, of whom nature is
but an expression, gives to those who apply for them in the way he has appointed — by
But who will dare trace the individual ownership of land to any grant from
the Maker of land? What does nature give to such ownership? how does she
in any way recognize it? Will any one show from difference of form or feature,
of stature or complexion, from dissection of their bodies or analysis of
their powers and needs, that one man was intended by nature to own land and
another to live on it as his tenant? That which derives its existence from
man and passes away like him, which is indeed but the evanescent expression
of his labor, man may hold and transfer as the exclusive property of the
individual; but how can such individual ownership attach to land, which existed
before man was, and which continues to exist while the generations of men
come and go — the unfailing storehouse that the Creator gives to man
for “the daily supply of his daily wants”?
Clearly, the private ownership of land is from the state, not from nature.
Thus, not merely can no objection be made on the score of morals when it
is proposed that the state shall abolish it altogether, but insomuch as it
is a violation of natural right, its existence involving a gross injustice
on the part of the state, an “impious violation of the benevolent intention
of the Creator,” it is a moral duty that the state so abolish it.
So far from there being anything unjust in taking the full value of landownership
for the use of the community, the real injustice is in leaving it in private
hands — an injustice that amounts to robbery and murder.
And when your Holiness shall see this I have no fear that you will listen
for one moment to the impudent plea that before the community can take what
God intended it to take — before men who have been disinherited of
their natural rights can be restored to them, the present owners of land
shall first be compensated.
For not only will you see that the single tax will directly and largely
benefit small landowners, whose interests as laborers and capitalists are
much greater than their interests as landowners, and that though the great
landowners — or rather the propertied class in general among whom the
profits of landownership are really divided through mortgages, rent-charges,
etc. — would relatively lose, they too would be absolute gainers in
the increased prosperity and improved morals; but more quickly, more strongly,
more peremptorily than from any calculation of gains or losses would your
duty as a man, your faith as a Christian, forbid you to listen for one moment
to any such paltering with right and wrong.
Where the state takes some land for public uses it is only just that those
whose land is taken should be compensated, otherwise some landowners would
be treated more harshly than others. But where, by a measure affecting all
alike, rent is appropriated for the benefit of all, there can be no claim
to compensation. Compensation in such case would be a continuance of the
same in another form — the giving to landowners in the shape of interest
of what they before got as rent. Your Holiness knows that justice and injustice
are not thus to be juggled with, and when you fully realize that land is
really the storehouse that God owes to all his children, you will no more
listen to any demand for compensation for restoring it to them than Moses
would have listened to a demand that Pharaoh should be compensated before
letting the children of Israel go.
Compensated for what? For giving up what has been unjustly taken? The demand
of landowners for compensation is not that. We do not seek to spoil the Egyptians.
We do not ask that what has been unjustly taken from laborers shall be restored.
We are willing that bygones should be bygones and to leave dead wrongs to
bury their dead. We propose to let those who by the past appropriation of
land values have taken the fruits of labor to retain what they have thus
got. We merely propose that for the future such robbery of labor shall cease — that
for the future, not for the past, landholders shall pay to the community
the rent that to the community is justly due. ... read the whole letter
Henry George: Political
Dangers (Chapter 2 of Social Problems,
 The rise in the United States of monstrous fortunes, the aggregation
of enormous wealth in the hands of corporations, necessarily implies the loss
by the people of governmental control. Democratic forms may be maintained,
but there can be as much tyranny and misgovernment under democratic forms as
any other — in fact, they lend themselves most readily to tyranny and
misgovernment. Forms count for little. The Romans expelled their kings, and
continued to abhor
the very name of king. But under the name of Cæsars and Imperators, that
at first meant no more than our "Boss," they crouched before tyrants
more absolute than kings. We have already, under the popular name of "bosses," developed
political Cæsars in municipalities and states. If this development continues,
in time there will come a national boss. We are young but we are growing. The
day may arrive when the "Boss of America" will be to the modern world
what Cæsar was to the Roman world. This, at least, is certain: Democratic
government in more than name can exist only where wealth is distributed with
something like equality — where the great mass of citizens are personally
free and independent, neither fettered by their poverty nor made subject by
their wealth. There is, after all, some sense in a property qualification.
The man who is dependent on a master for his living is not a free man. To give
the suffrage to slaves is only to give votes to their owners. That universal
suffrage may add to, instead of decreasing, the political power of wealth we
see when mill-owners and mine operators vote their hands. The freedom to earn,
without fear or favor, a comfortable living, ought to go with the freedom to
vote. Thus alone can a sound basis for republican institutions be secured.
How can a man be said to have a country where he has no right to a square inch
of soil; where he has nothing but his hands, and. urged by starvation, must
bid against his fellows for the privilege of using them? When it comes to voting
tramps, some principle has been carried to a ridiculous and dangerous extreme.
I have known elections to be decided by the carting of paupers from the almshouse
to the polls. But such decisions can scarcely be in the interest of good government. ... read the entire essay
Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)
... let us lay down and briefly defend the proposition that —
Taxation as a means of meeting the proper expenses of government is oppressive,
unjust, inexpedient and unnecessary.
This proposition will strike a good many readers as absurd, but all must at
least recognize the timeliness of the topic and the importance of any contribution
to the discussion of a subject which is agitating the whole civilized world,
for the methods, subjects and amounts of taxation are among the pressing problems
of every country.
The most obvious question which arises in the mind of anyone who reads for
the first time the proposition above laid down is this:
"If taxation is unnecessary, what is to take its place? Government and
its functions are increasingly expensive. They require a lot of money. Where
is it to come from?" The answer may be placed in the form of a second
Every community, whatever its political name and extent — village, city,
state or province or nation — has its own normal, unfailing income,
growing with the growth of the community and always adequate to meet necessary
To explain: Every community has an indefeasible original right to the land
on which it exists, and to all the natural, unmodified properties and advantages
of that particular area of the earth's surface. To this land in its natural
state, undrained, unfenced, unfertilized, unplanted and unoccupied, including
its waters, its contents and its location, every individual in the community
(which may consist of any political unit selected) has an equal right, while
all the individuals together have a joint right to the value for use which
society has conferred upon these natural advantages.
This value for use is known as "Land Value," or by the not particularly
descriptive but generally adopted name of "Economic Rent." ...
make it plain to the wayfaring man that taxation can be abolished and will
be abolished whenever the voters of any political unit so decree, and
a force of hope and purpose will be liberated which must bring nearer the
time when the things that are the community's will be rendered to it, and
which are the individual's will be left in his unmolested possession. The
watchword of our friends the Georgeites is "A Single Tax." The true slogan
is "Not a Single Tax!"; and the triumph of the cause behind that
slogan would cut more of the taproots of poverty, vice and social unrest
than any other progressive step which is a legislative possibility. read
the whole article