We hold: That—
This world is the creation of God.
The men brought into it for the brief period of their earthly lives are
the equal creatures of his bounty, the equal subjects of his provident care.
By his constitution man is beset by physical wants, on the satisfaction
of which depend not only the maintenance of his physical life but also the
development of his intellectual and spiritual life.
God has made the satisfaction of these wants dependent on man’s own
exertions, giving him the power and laying on him the injunction to labor — a
power that of itself raises him far above the brute, since we may reverently
say that it enables him to become as it were a helper in the creative work.
God has not put on man the task of making bricks without straw. With the
need for labor and the power to labor he has also given to man the material
for labor. This material is land — man physically being a land animal,
who can live only on and from land, and can use other elements, such as air,
sunshine and water, only by the use of land.
Being the equal creatures of the Creator, equally entitled under his providence
to live their lives and satisfy their needs, men are equally entitled to
the use of land, and any adjustment that denies this equal use of land is
morally wrong. ...
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. ...
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. ...
See how fully adequate is the cause I have pointed out. The most important
of all the material relations of man is his relation to the planet he inhabits,
and hence, the “impious resistance to the benevolent intentions of
his Creator,” which, as Bishop Nulty says, is involved in private
property in land, must produce evils wherever it exists. But by virtue
of the law, “unto whom much is given, from him much is required,” the
very progress of civilization makes the evils produced by private property
in land more wide-spread and intense.
What is producing throughout the civilized world that condition of things
you rightly describe as intolerable is not this and that local error or minor
mistake. It is nothing less than the progress of civilization itself; nothing
less than the intellectual advance and the material growth in which our century
has been so preeminent, acting in a state of society based on private property
in land; nothing less than the new gifts that in our time God has been showering
on man, but which are being turned into scourges by man’s “impious
resistance to the benevolent intentions of his Creator.”
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