Each of us may wear more than one hat. We have our labor, the ability to work,
and therefore may be Labor. If we have been able to save some of our earnings,
or have inherited someone else's savings, we may have invested them, and
therefore be Capital. Third, we may also be Landholders. While the landholder
hat may at first thought be part of being Capital, it is actually quite different.
More important, our interests as Labor are very different from our interests
as Capital and from our interests as Landholders. And we should be conscious
of whether we are looking for a return on our labor, or on some sort of privilege.
By lowering the price of land and eliminating other taxes, it is likely
that many more of us will be able to save something for future consumption,
and for investment into others' productivity (capital, on which the return
is interest, to sustain us in retirement). The demand for labor which will
result from the more intense use of centrally located land will increase
wages in this country and increase labor's ability to seek a better
The landholder is inert. He doesn't lift a finger or add anything to production.
Why should he be paid for his non-effort? Why should our young people have
to pay sellers or landlords a large share of their earnings for access to
land the sellers and landlords didn't create? (Buildings, particularly ones
that aren't brand new, aren't all that expensive.) Collect those funds to
meet our common spending needs, and things will improve for
Many of us have watched as the lot on which we live has appreciated rapidly,
perhaps producing more addition to our net worth than our labor does. We
may feel very attached to that appreciation, but we've done nothing to earn
Those who have "retired" from work may think that their own interests are
no longer the interests of labor, that they are now "land" and "capital"
and that therefore it behooves them to support the privileges landholders
currently receive. But if they have children, or nieces and nephews, or younger
neighbors, or think beyond the end of their noses and fingers, ultimately
the interests of their fellow human beings must compel them to seek justice
for all, not privilege for some.
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George,
a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry
George (with links to sources)
AND while in the nature of things any change from wrong-doing to right-doing
must entail loss upon those who profit by the wrong-doing, and this can no
more be prevented than can parallel lines be made to meet; yet it must also
be remembered that in the nature of things the loss is merely relative, the
gain absolute. Whoever will examine the subject will see that in the abandonment
of the present unnatural and unjust method of raising public revenues and
the adoption of the natural and just method even those who relatively lose
will be enormous gainers. — A
Perplexed Philosopher (Compensation)
MANY landholders are laborers of one sort or another. And it would be hard to
find a landowner not a laborer, who is not also a capitalist — while the
general rule is, that the larger the landowner the greater the capitalist. So
true is this that in common thought the characters are confounded. Thus, to put
all taxes on the value of land, while it would be to largely reduce all great
fortunes, would in no case leave the rich man penniless. The Duke of Westminster,
who owns a considerable part of the site of London, is probably the richest landowner
in the world. To take all his ground rents by taxation would largely reduce his
enormous income, but would still leave him his buildings and all the income from
them, and doubtless much personal property in various other shapes. He would
still have all he could by any possibility enjoy, and a much better state of
society in which to enjoy it. — Progress & Poverty — Book
IX, Chapter 3, Effects of the Remedy: Of the Effect Upon Individuals and Classes
... go to "Gems from
Fred E. Foldvary — The
Ultimate Tax Reform:
Public Revenue from Land Rent
The obstacles to land value taxation are political. The current system benefits
certain vested interests that will resist reform. But since the public at
large will benefit from a shift to land value taxation, and since they greatly
those obtaining privileges from the current system, the greater reason why
this tax reform has not taken place is that the public has not been informed.
Once citizens, taxpayers, consumers, and voters understand the option of
obtaining public revenue from land value or rent, then the logic of getting
efficiency and greater justice may well prevail. ... read
the whole document
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)
Note 91: The labor that was forced to the poorest lands would continually
bid for the opportunities that the better lands offered, until an equilibrium
was reached at the point shown in the preceding chart, where the given expenditure
of labor is as well compensated in one place as in another.
If laborer and land-owner be different persons, the laborer receives what
is distinguished as Wages, and the land-owner what is distinguished as Rent.
If the same person, he receives Wages as laborer and Rent as land-owner.
Q27. Would working people, whose savings are in savings banks or insurance
companies which own land or have mortgages upon land, lose by the shrinkage
in land values?
A. Not if the companies were managed intelligently. Well managed companies
would shift their investments as they observed the persistent decline of
land values. They would do it even as soon as conditions appeared which would
naturally cause land values to shrink. But working people could well afford
to give all their savings for the permanent employment and high wages that
the single tax would bring about. It is not working people but idle people
who would lose anything by the single tax.
wealthandwant editorial comment: Post may be confusing land prices and
land value. Land value will continue to rise; land
price will fall, as the land
tax is capitalized into the price. ...
Q58. Should not the poor man be compensated for the loss of his land value?
A. No. The reasons are numerous. Among them are the following: The poor man's
rights in the community and in common property are neither more nor less
than the rich man's. The better conditions for the poor man which the single
tax would bring about would more than off-set his loss in land values.
The poor man has no land values worth speaking of. ... read the book
Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)
Reclaim for the community its natural income, making it expensive either to
keep needed land vacant or to withhold it from the ready and willing to improve
it to the full extent of its possibilities.
Does it require severe intellectual effort to foresee the results? Better
and better houses, apartments, tenements, offices and stores, more employment
for labor in all enterprises now held back by the shadow of the tax-gatherer,
an end of all tax-lying, tax-evasion and tax-injustice, and withal, a public
revenue adequate to all real public needs.
What a contrast to the existing plan of pouring public money into the laps
of individual landowners to their own moral disadvantage and that of their
children, as well as the economic disadvantage of their neighbors, while constantly
cudgeling the civic brains, straining the public credit, impoverishing widows
and orphans, and increasing the exactions from every citizen and corporation
that can be caught, in the effort to raise more and more money to bestow upon
the same beneficiaries. ... read the whole article
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 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
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
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. ...
Men who are sure of getting food when they shall need it eat only what appetite
dictates. But with the sparse tribes who exist on the verge of the habitable
globe life is either a famine or a feast. Enduring hunger for days, the fear
of it prompts them to gorge like anacondas when successful in their quest
of game. And so, what gives wealth its curse is what drives men to seek it,
what makes it so envied and admired — the fear of want. As the unduly
rich are the corollary of the unduly poor, so is the soul-destroying quality
of riches but the reflex of the want that embrutes and degrades. The real
evil lies in the injustice from which unnatural possession and unnatural
deprivation both spring.
But this injustice can hardly be charged on individuals or classes.
The existence of private property in land is a great social wrong from
society at large suffers, and of which the very rich and the very poor are
alike victims, though at the opposite extremes. Seeing this, it seems to
us like a violation of Christian charity to speak of the rich as though they
individually were responsible for the sufferings of the poor. Yet, while
you do this, you insist that the cause of monstrous wealth and degrading
poverty shall not be touched. Here is a man with a disfiguring and dangerous
excrescence. One physician would kindly, gently, but firmly remove it. Another
insists that it shall not be removed, but at the same time holds up the poor
victim to hatred and ridicule. Which is right?
In seeking to restore all men to their equal and natural rights
we do not seek the benefit of any class, but of all. For we both know by
see by fact that injustice can profit no one and that justice must benefit
all. ... read the whole letter