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.
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.) ...
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 them.
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. ... read the whole letter