Wealth and Want
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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 rightly 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 owner. (51.)

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 of land.

The contention, thus made, that private property in land is from nature, not from man, has no other basis than the confounding of ownership with possession 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 labor.

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, 1883)

[11] 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 proposition:

Every community, whatever its political name and extent — village, city, state or province or nation — has its own normal, unfailing income, growing with the growth of the community and always adequate to meet necessary governmental expenditure.

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." ...

But 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 the things 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




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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper