Professor of Political Science, State University of New
York (Albany) Donald Reeb, in a research paper published in 1998
The two-rate or graded tax not
only reduces the negative effects from taxation on buildings, it
promotes the development of new buildings and jobs.
David Ricardo, whose theories of value and wages furnished
the economic groundwork for Lasalle and Karl Marx, developed also
the doctrine of rent which became the cardinal principle in the
system of Henry George. It is one of the ironies of history that the
theories of Ricardo, who was such a staunch exponent of the
interests of the moneyed classes, should have been employed to
justify radical attacks upon the economic interests of these
"In a progressive country",
argued Ricardo, ... "the landlord not
only obtains a greater produce, but a larger share."
Hence, "the interest of the landlord is
always opposed to the interest of every other class in the
community. His situation is never so prosperous as when food is
scarce and deal."
In Ricardo's Manual of Political Economy[p.
1xxx], he wrote:
Sustained by some of the
greatest names -- I will say by every name of the rist rank in
Political Economy from Turgot and Adam Smith to Mill -- I hold that
the land of a country presents conditions which separate it
economically from the great mass of the other objects of wealth.
Rent is that portion of the
produce of the earth which is paid to the landlord for the use of
the original and indestructible powers of the soil.
[From: Principles of Political Economy,
The interest of the landlord is
always opposed to the interests of every other class in the
[source not researched]
James Edwin Thorold
As a matter of fact, the owner
contributes nothing to local taxation. Everything is heaped on the
occupier. The land would be worthless without roads, and the
occupier has to construct, widen and repair them. It could not be
inhabited without proper drainage, and the occupier is constrained
to construct and pay for the works which give an initial value to
the ground rent, and, after the outlay, enhance it. It could not be
occupied without a proper supply of water, and the cost of this
supply is levied on the occupier also. In return for the enormous
expenditure paid by the tenant for these permanent improvements, he
has his rent raised on his improvements, and his taxes increased by
[From: Six Centuries of Work and Wages]
James Edwin Thorold
Every permanent improvement of
the soil, every railroad and road, every bettering of the general
condtion of society, every facility given for production, every
stimulus supplied to consumption, raises rent. The landowner sleeps,
but thrives. He along, among all the recipients in the distribution
of products, owes everything to the labor of others, contributes
nothing of his own. He inherits part of the fruits of present
industry, and has appropriated the lion's share of accumulated
James Edwin Thorold
No human being need trouble
himself about a landlord's rents, other to be sure than the landlord
himself. The happiest state which the human race could conceive its
such a mobility of labor and such an extension of the cultivable
land and productive industry which man gives to cultivable land as
to produce that plenty in which rent finds no place.
[From: Work and Wages, Chap. XVI, p.
James Edwin Thorold
I can easily imagine a great
proprietor of ground rents in the metropolis calling attention to
the habitations of the poor, to the evils of overcrowding, and to
the scandals which the inquiry reveals, while his own income is
greatly increased by the causes which make house-rent dear in
London, and decent lodging hardly obtainable by thousands of
[From: Work and Wages, Chap. XV, p.
I believe that Henry George was
one of the really great thinkers produced by our country. I do not
go all the way with him, but I wish that his writings were better
known and more clearly understood, for certainly they contain much
that would be helpful today.
Every person who invests in
well-selected real estate in a growing section of a prosperous
community adopts the surest and safest method of becoming
independent, for real estate is the basis of wealth.
[Quoted in: William H. Ten Haken, in "Real
Estate as a Marketable Commodity," The Annals of The
American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. CXLVIII,
No. 237, March, 1930, p.25]
The burden of taxation should be
so shifted as to put the weight upon the unearned rise in the value
of land itself, rather than improvements, the effect being to
prevent the undue rise of rents.
[From: Century Magazine, October
Rousseau's observations concerning the State and the
competing interests of classes within society led him to conclude:
You are undone if you once
forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth
itself to no one.
The following is from Rousseau's "Discussion on
The first man, who after
enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say, "This
is mine" and found people simple enough to believe him, was the
true founder of Civil Society. How many crimes, how many wars, how
many misfortunes and horrors would that man have saved the human
species, who pulling up the stakes or filling up the ditches, should
have cried to his fellow! Be sure not to listen to the imposter; you
are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong equitably
to us all, and the earth itself to nobody."
[Jean Jacques Rousseau, Essay on the
Origin of Inequality Among Men (1755), Part II., p.1]
It begins to be asked on many
sides how the possessors of the land became possessed of it, and why
they should still possess it, more than you or I.
[From: Fors Clavigera, Vol. I,
Bodies of men and women, then
(and much more, as I have said before, their souls), must not be
bought or sold. Neither must land, nor water, nor air, these things
being the necessary sustenance of men's bodies and souls.
[From: Time and Tide, Sec. 150,
These principles the professor
[Fawcett] goes on contentedly to investigate, never appearing to
contemplate for an instant the possibility of the first principle of
the whole business -- the maintenance, by force, of the possession
of land obtained by force, being ever called in question by any
human mind. It is nevertheless the nearest task of our day to
discover how far original theft may be justly encountered by
reactionary theft, or whether reactionary theft be indeed theft at
all; and farther, what, excluding either original or corrective
theft, are the just conditions of the possession of land.
[From: Munera Pulveris (1871),
Russell reached the same conclusions as Henry George had,
The mere abolition of rent
would not remove injustice, since it would confer a capricious
advantage upon the occupiers of the best sites and the most fertile
land. It is necessary that there should be rent, but it should be
paid to the state or to some body which performs public services;
or, if the total rental were more than is required for such
purposes, it might be paid into a common fund and divided equally
among the population.
Most municipalities in the
Transvaal tax land values only. City authorities and the people
believe the land value tax is fairer than taxing both land and
improvements. There is no tax on machinery or merchandise. This
system has been in effect in Johannesburg since 1919. It did not
cause any business disturbance when suddenly enacted and it has
given general satisfaction... It undoubtedly has helped to replace
old buildings with new ones in the more central locations.
[U.S. Consul General in the Union of South Africa]
Neo-Keynesian economist and Nobel Laureate, Paul
Samuelson, has over several decades in his extensively-used
textbook expanded on the subject of whether the income (i.e., cash
flow) derived from controlling locations justly belongs to the
individual or entity that happens to hold a title deed enforced by
government. Here, in a not very direct fashion, he suggests that the
just society requires that locations be leased by society rather
than sold for private gain:
Our ideal society finds it
essential to put a rent on land as a way of maximizing the total
consumption available to the society. ...Pure land rent is in the
nature of a "surplus" which can be taxed heavily without
distorting production incentives or efficiency. A land value tax can
be called "the useful tax on measured land surplus".
In the text Economics, 16th edition, p.250, the
The striking result is that a
tax on rent will lead to no distortions or economic inefficiencies.
Why not? Because a tax on pure economic rent does not change
anyone's economic behavior. Demanders are unaffected because their
price is unchanged. The behavior of suppliers is unaffected because
the supply of land is fixed and cannot react. Hence, the economy
operates after the tax exactly as it did before the tax--with no
distortions or inefficiencies arising as a result of the land tax.
In the 1870s ideas similar to those expressed by Henry
George were being heard in Australia. When Henry George was editing
the San Francisco Post, a copy of a tract written by Robert Savage,
of the "Land Tenure Reform League of Victoria," came to
his attention. He published an extract from it in an editorial in
the Post, 16 April 1874. The author of the tract declared:
The allocation of the rents of
the soil to the nation is the only possible means by which a just
distribution of the created wealth can be effected.
The doctrine that land can
become the private property of one is a doctrine morally repugnant
to the Bantu. The idea which is to-day beginning to haunt Europe,
that, as the one possible salve for our social wounds and diseases,
it might be well if the land should become again the property of the
nation at large, is no ideal to the Bantu, but a realistic
actuality. He finds it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile
his sense of justice with any other form of tenure.
[From: Stray Thoughts on South
Africa, Fortnightly Review (July, 1896), p.6]
A letter written by Arthur Schlesinger, printed in the New
York Times, March 27, 1994:
"In his fascinating article
on America through Russian eyes ('Under Eastern Eyes: What America
Meant to the Writers of Russia," Feb. 27), David Plante
observes that there are 'very few' references to America in Tolstoy.
Tolstoy reference Mr. Plante might have noted struck George Kennan
with singular force when Mr. Kennan was Ambassador to Moscow.
Watching a dramatization of Tolstoy's 'Resurrection' at the Moscow
Art theater, the American Ambassador was electrified to hear the
leading man, looking straight at him, say, 'There is an American by
the name of George, and with him we are all in agreement.' Was this
a daring political gestue? Back at the embassy, Kennan took down
Tolstoy's novel and found that the line referred to Henry George,
the champion of the single tax on unearned increase in land values
and an American much admired by Tolstoy."
In the annals of natural
history, after herb-eating animals had been evolved, it was not long
before beasts of prey made their appearance, which lived on the
flesh of their precursors. In like manner, after men have honestly
reclaimed the soil necessary for the support of a people, by the
sweat of their brows, others are sure to arrive on the stage, who,
instead of making the soil productive and living on its produce,
prefer to bring their own skins to market and stake life, health and
freedom on the chanceof pouncing upon those who hold possessions
which they have fairly earned, and of appropriating their fruits.
[From: Parerga and Paralipomena
(1852 ), Vol.II, Sec. 125]
The difference between serfdom
as in Russia, and landownership as in England, and particularly
between the serf, and the tenant, occupier, mortgagor, etc., is more
in form than in fact. Whether I own the peasant, or the land from
which he must obtain his nourishment, the bird or its food, the
fruit or the tree, is practically a matter of small importance.
[From: Parerga and Paralipomena
(1852 ), Vol.II, Sec. 126]
To such a point have we been
brought by an artificial system of society, that we must either deny
altogether the right of the poor to their just proportion of the
fruits of the earth, or afford them some means of subsistence out of
them by the institution of positive law.
[From: St. Ronan's Well, Chap.
XXXII, Note G]
Seattle, chief of the Dwamlsh
In the mid-nineteenth century, the tribe of indigenous
people called the Dwamlsh found themselves in the path of the
European-American conquest of North America. Their chief, Seattle,
attempted peaceful diplomacy with the President what was still a
Union of sovereign states, the national government of which had
declared geo-political control over the territory and peoples of
much of North America. The letter was directed to Franklin Pierce:
How can you buy or sell the sky
-- the warmth of the land? The idea Is strange to us... Every part
of this earth is sacred to us.
From Epistles, XC (near the end):
What generation of men was ever
happier? In common they enjoyed the gifts of nature; she sufficed
like a mother to the support of all. ... To-day let avarice add
field to field, let her drive ut her neighbors by purchase or by
fraud, let her swell her estate to the size of a province, no
extension of our boundaries will bring us back to the point we
But there is a higher law than
the constitution, which regulates out authority over the domain, and
devotes it to the same noble purpose. The territory is a part of the
common heritage of mankind, bestowed upon them by the Creator of the
[From a speech in the United States
Senate, 11 March, 1850]
Shaw, another in a long line of controvsial, reform-minded
figures of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, described
his introduction to Henry George and his ideas:
I went one night quite casually
into a hall in London, and I heard a man deliver a speech which
changed the whole current of my life. That man was an American --
Henry George... Well, Henry George put me on to the economic tack,
and the tack of political science. Very shortly afterwards I read
Karl Marx, and I read all the early political sciences of that time;
but It was the American, Henry George, who started me. Therefore, as
that happened at the beginning of my life, I have thought it
fitting that now at the end of my life... I might come and give here
In America back a little of that shove that Henry George gave to me.
From the book, Everybody's Political What's What?,
"Finally I must insist
that the crux of the land question is the classical theory of
Economic Rent, dubbed by Lassalle the Iron Law of Wages. Like the
roundness of the Earth, it is unfortunately not obvious. It is the
pons asinorum of economic mathematics. Our politicians cannot draw
their conclusions from it any more than Shakespeare could draw his
from the okapi or the axolotl: they simply do not know of its
existence. Karl Marx, by an absurd reference to it in 'Das Kapital',
proved that he did not understand it. John Ruskin, after a very
promising beginning as an economist by his contrast of exchange
value swith human values, was stopped dead by it. Yet Marx and
Ruskin had had more brains and keener interest in social questions
than three or four million average voters. It is the rock on which
Liberal Cobdenism has been broken and Socialism built in the
struggle between plutocracy and democracy."
Land value taxation has various
advantages: the decrease in land speculation, the acceleration of
urban development, the financial independence of local governments,
redressing the fiscal diparity between a central city and its
suburbs, prevention of urban sprawl and more effective use of land,
etc. According to the Urban Land Institute of Washington, D.C., the
land value tax is the golden key to urban renewal to the automatic
regeneration of the city -- and not at public expense.
[Professor of Economics, University of Pittsburgh, 1986]
Assuming that a tax increase is
necessary, it is clearly preferable to impose the additional cost on
land by increasing the land tax, rather than to increase the wage
tax ... It is the use and occupancy of property that creates the
need for municipal services that appear as the largest item in the
budget -- fire and police protection, waste removal, and public
Simonde de Sismondi,
In general, as soon as there is
no more vacant land, the masters of the soil have a kind of monopoly
against the rest of the world.
[From: New Principles of Political
Economy (1820), Book III., Chap. 5, p. 202 (Second French
Sismonde de Sismondi,
As proprietors lastly, the whole
soil of the cuntry belongs to them, and they have sometimes
arrogated to themselves the right of dismissing the nation from her
[From: "Essay on Landed Property,"
Political Economy (1847), English Edition, p. 161]
Sismonde de Sismondi,
Let the great (land) lords of
England take care! ...If once they believe that they have no need of
the people, the people may in their turn think that they have no
need of them.
[From: "Essay on Landed Property,"
Political Economy (1847), English Edition, p. 189]
Sismonde de Sismondi,
The nature of landed property,
invariably limited, whatsoever may be the demand of the producers or
consumers, gives it the power of a monopoly.
[From: "Essay on Landed Property,"
Political Economy (1847), p. 176]
Sismonde de Sismondi,
Labor applied to land produces
more than it has cost. The often debated question of this surplus is
an idle question; its existence is a fact which is not contested.
[From: "Essay on Landed Property,"
Political Economy (1847), p. 175]
The tax on buildings punishes
all the people who improve their property by raising their taxes and
rewards those who let their property deteriorate or sit vacant.
Taxing land along would remove the disincentive to private
development and private renewal of our cities and towns.
[Professor of Economics, University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee,
Smillie was elected president of the Scottish Miners'
Federation in 1894. Two years later he played an important role in
the formation of the Scottish Trade Union Congress. His role was
recognised when he was elected chairman at its first conference, a
post he was to hold until 1899. When the First World War ended in
1918, Smillie was one of the first to call for the Labour Party to
withdraw from Lloyd George's coalition government.
In 1919 Smillie called for the nationalization and workers' control
of Britain mines. David Lloyd George responded by setting up a Royal
Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Sankey. The Sankey Royal
Commission failed to agree about the solutions to these problems,
but the majority of the members did support the idea of the mines
being nationalized. Smillie was furious when Lloyd George refused to
nationalize the mines and allowed them to go back into private
Smillie had tried several times to enter the House of Commons. He
was defeated at by-elections in 1895 (Glasgow) and 1901 (N.E.
Lanarkshire) and at General Elections held in 1906 (Paisley) and
1910 (Glasgow). Smillie was finally elected MP for Morpeth in the
1923 General Election. He declined a post in the 1924 Labour
Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald.
As a result of poor health, Smillie was forced to resign his
Morpeth seat in 1929. Robert Smillie retired to Dumfries where he
died on 16th February, 1940.
"Late in life I have
realised, what I failed to see in the early days, that the root of
all our social problems lies in the land question. So long as land
is withheld from free access to men, anxious and willing to utilise
Nature's bounty, just so long will you have a crowd of men at the
factory gate waiting for jobs. The key to the anomalies we are all
endeavouring to solve is the land problem.
If the atmosphere
could have been parcelled out and bottled up so that every child
that comes into the world would only be allowed to breathe on the
payment of air-rent, you can picture a state of affairs as
deplorable, but no less unjust and ridiculous, as that obtaining at
the present time with your private ownership and monopoly of the
[A statement made at Newcastle-under-Lyme, October 1921]
In Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations we find the germs
of the idea that land rent is peculiarly an unearned and
As soon as land becomes private
property, the landlord demands a share of almost all the produce
which the labourer can either raise, or collect from it. His rent
makes the first deduction from the produce of the labour which is
employed upon the land. [Book 1, Ch.8, p.29]
The idea of land rent as an income which, altogether apart
from any special activity of the land owner, tends to increase
spontaneously with the progress of society, yielding to its
recipients a relatively increasing share in the distribution of
wealth, is also found in the Wealth of Nations [Book I, Ch.
Every improvement in the
circumstances of the society tends either directly or indirectly to
raise the real rent of land, to increase the real wealth of the
landlord, his power of purchasing the labour, or the produce of the
labour of other people.
The real value of the landlord's share, his real command of the
labour of other people, not only rises with the real value of the
produce, but the proportion of his share to the whole produce rises
Smith then addressed the subject of whether the rent of
land ought to be taxed [Book 5, Ch.2, pp.380-81:
Both ground-rnets and the
ordinary rent of land are a species of revenue which the owner, in
many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own. Though
a part of this revenue should be taken from him in order to defray
the expenses of the state, no discouragement will thereby be given
to any sort of industry. ...Ground-rents, and the ordinary rnt of
land, are therefore, perhaps, the species of revenue which can best
bear to have a peculiar tax imposed upon them.
Ground rents seem in this respect a more proper subject of peculiar
taxation than even the ordinary rent of land. ...Ground-rents, so
far as they exceed the ordinary rent of land, are altogether owing
to the good government of the sovereign. ...Nothing can be more
reasonable than that a fund which owes its existence to the good
government of the stae should be taxed peculiarly, or should
contribute something more than the greater part of other funds
towards the support of that government.
A tax upon ground-rents would
not raise the rent of houses. It would fall altogether upon the
owner of the ground-rent, who acts always as a monopolist and exacts
the greatest rent which can be got for the use of the ground.
[From: Wealth of Nations (1776),
Book V, Chap. 2, Art.1]
As soon as the land of any
country has all become private property, the landlords, like all
other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent
even for its naturla produce.
[From: Wealth of Nations, Book
I., Chap. 6]
Smith was born in Utica, New York, on 6 March, 1797. After
graduating at Hamilton College in 1818, he assumed the management of
his family estate. In the late 1820s he became active in the
temperance movement, and then became an abolitionist in 1835. In
1840 he helped to organize the Liberty party. An "Industrial
Congress" at Philadelphia nominated him for the Presidency in
1848, and the "Land Reformers" in 1856. In 1840 and in
1858 he was a candidate for the governorship of New York on an
In 1853 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as an
independent, and issued an address declaring that all men have an
equal right to the soil; that wars are brutal and unnecessary; that
slavery could be sanctioned by no constitution, state or federal;
that free trade is essential to human brotherhood; that women should
have full political rights; that the Federal government and the
states should prohibit the liquor traffic within their respective
jurisdictions; and that government officers, so far as practicable,
should be elected by direct vote of the people. At the end of the
first session he resigned his seat. After becoming an opponent of
land monopoly, he gave numerous farms of fifty acres each to
indigent families, and also attempted to colonize tracts in northern
New York State with free negroes. He favored a vigorous prosecution
of the Civil War, but at its close advocated a mild policy toward
the late Confederate states, declaring that part of the guilt of
slavery lay upon the North.
His private benefactions were boundless; of his gifts he kept no
record, but their value is said to have exceeded $8 million. Though
a man of great wealth his life was one of marked simplicity. He died
on the 28th of December 1874, while on a visit to relatives in New
I admit that there are things
in which a man can have absolute property, and which without
qualification or restriction he can buy or sell or bequeath at his
pleasure. But I deny that the soil is among these things.
[From a Speech to the U.S. Congress, 21
February, 1854. Speeches of Gerrit Smith, p.74]
The world will be much happier
when land monopoly shall cease, because manual labor will then be so
honorable, because so well-nigh universal. It will be happier too,
because the wges system, with all its attendant degradation and
unhappy influences, will find but little room in the new and
radically changed condition of society.
[From: Speeches in the U.S.
Congress (1854), pp.84-5]
The vacant land belongs to the
landless. The simple fact that the one is vacant and the other
landless is of itself the highest proof that they should be allowed
to come together. Alas, what a crime against nature that they should
be kept apart.
[From: Speeches in the U.S.
Congress (1854), p. 247]
Henry Snell, the son of an agricultural labourer, was born at
Sutton-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, in 1865. He was educated at the
local school until he reached the age of twelve. As an adult, he
moved to London, where he joined the Mechanics' Institution and used
the University College reference library. Books that deeply
influenced him at this time included books The Age of Reason
by Tom Paine, Progress and Poverty by Henry George and Towards
Democracy by Edward Carpenter.
In 1894 Snell joined the Fabian Society. He then joined Ramsay
MacDonald, Graham Wallas, Catherine Glasier and Bruce Glasier in
travelling around the country giving lecturers on subjects such as
'Socialism', 'Trade Unionism', 'Co-operation' and 'Economic
Snell was also a early member of the Labour Party and made several
attempts to represent the party in the House of Commons. After
failing to be elected in Huddersfield in 1910 and 1918 he was
eventually elected to represent Woolwich in London in the 1922
General Election. He continued in politics and between 1935 and 1940
was leader of the Labour Party in the House of Lords. Henry Snell
died on 21st April 1944.
I was one of the many thousands
of young men whose political and social views were greatly
stimulated by Henry George's famous book Progress and Poverty,
which, if measured by the breadth and the depth of its influence on
the thoughtful workmen of the eighties, must be considered as one of
the greatest political documents of that generation.
[From: Men Movements and Myself, 1936]
I heard Henry George just before
Progress and Poverty had been published, a book which had
made a tremendous impression in the United States and Great Britain.
Henry George was having something of a triumphal tour through
Scotland. The Scottish Radicals had been captured by the theories he
had advanced in Progress and Poverty.
No book every written on the social problem made so many converts.
Economic facts and theories have never been presented in such an
attractive way. Although Henry George was not a socialist, his book
led many of his readers to socialism. Keir Hardie told me that it
was Progress and Poverty which gave him his first ideas of
Henry George had a very impressive platform style. In appearance he
was of middle height, well built, had a full, brown beard, and would
have passed for a Nonconformist minister. His style of speaking was
conversational, rather than oratorical.
[from: An Autobiography, 1934]
Snowden served in the Liberal government of Lloyd George as
Chancellor of the Exchequer. Concerned over the desperate conditions
of the 1930s, Snowden campaigned for reform of the tax struture. He
There never was a time when the
need was greater than it is today for the application of the
philosophy and principles of Henry George to the economic and
political conditions which are scourging the whole world. The root
cause of the world's economic distress is surely obvious to every
man who has eyes to see and a brain to understand. So long as land
is a monopoly, and men are denied free access to it to apply their
labor to its uses, poverty and unemployment will exist. Permanent
Peace can only be established when men and nations have realized
that natural resources should be a common heritage, and used for the
good of all mankind.
"Until they had
abolished landlordism root and branch, every other attempt at reform
was building upon the sands. Every reform not based on common
ownership of the land was simply subsidising landlordism. Every
social reform increased the economic rent of land. Therefore, unless
they were going to continue to waste their efforts by tinkering with
social questions as in the past, they must concentrate upon this
fundamental question, to secure the land for the people."
[Mr. Philip Snowden, at Memorial Hall,
London, 24th May 1919 (Land Nationaliser, June 1919)]
"We hold the position that the
whole economic value of land belongs to the community and that no
individual has the right to appropriate and enjoy what belongs to
the community as a whole. Let there be no mistake about it. When the
Labour Government does sit upon those benches it will not deserve to
have a second term of office unless in the most determined manner it
tries to secure social wealth for social purposes."
[Mr. Philip Snowden, House of Commons,
4th July 1923 (on Third Reading of Finance Bill)]
The user of land should not be
allowed to acquire rights of indefinite duration for single
payments. For efficiency, for adequate revenue and for justice,
every user of land should be required to make an annual payment to
the local government equal to the current rental value of the land
that he or she prevents others from using.
Let all the Parishioners unite,
take Archdeacon Paley in one hand and the Bible in the other,
assemble in an adjoining field, and after having debated the subject
to their own satisfaction, enter into a Convention and unanimously
agree to a Declaration of Rights, in which it is declared that all
the land, including coal-pits, mines, rivers, etc., belonging to the
Parish of Bees, now in the possession of Lord Drone, shall on Lady
Day, 25th March, 18--, become public property, the joint stock and
common farm, in which every Parishioner shall enjoy an equal
[From: Land for the Landless
Thomas Spence, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, advocated ideas
strikingly similar to those of Henry George in a lecture before the
Philosophical Society of Newcastle on 8 November 1775 (for the
printing of which, wrote Spence, "the society did the Author
the honour to expel him"). Spence believed in the natural right
of all men to land. Concerning the private appropriation of land,
Spence wrote [The Rights of Infants, 1796, p.3]:
For as all the rivers run into
the sea, and yet the sea is not full, so let there ever so many
sources of wealth, let trade, foreign and domestic, open all their
sluices, yet will no other but the landed interest be ultimately the
Spence's remedy was "to administer the landed estate
of the nation as a joint-stock property, in parochial partnerships,
by dividing the rent" [The Whole Rights of Man, 1796,
There are no tolls or taxes of
any kind paid among them, by native or foreigner, but the aforesaid
rent. The government, poor, roads, etc. etc. ... are all maintained
by the parishes with the rent: on which account all wares,
manufactures, allowable trade, employments, or actions, are entirely
Herbert Spencer, in his Social Statics, published
in 1850, the same year as Patrick Edward Dove's work, gave the
fullest exposition of the natural rights theory applied to land
prior to Henry George's writings. In chapter IX, The Right to the
Use of the Earth, he declared that "equity ... does not permit
property in land" [p.132]:
The right of each man to use of
the earth, limited only by the like rights of his fellow-men, is
immediately deducible from the law of equal freedom. We see that the
maintenance of this right necessarily forbids private property in
land. On examination, all existing titles to such property turn out
to be invalid.
Spencer believed that equal apportionment of the earth
among its inhabitants and common property in land would be alike
unfeasible. But the change could be effected with no serious
disturbance of the existing order [p.141]:
The change required would be
simply a change of land-lords. Separate ownership would merge into
the joint-stock ownership of the public. Instead of being in the
possession of individuals, the country would be held by the great
corporate body -- Society. Instead of leasing his acres form an
isolated proprietor, the farmer would lease them from the nation.
Instead of paying his rent to the agent of Sir John or his Grace, he
would pay it to an agent or deputy-agent of the community. Stewards
would be public officials instead of private ones; and tenancy the
only land tenure.
Equity ... does not permit
property in land. For if one portion of the earth's surface may
justly become the possessio of an individual and may be held by him
for his sole use and benefit as a thing to which he has an exclusive
right, then other portions of the earth's surface may be so held;
and eventually the whole of the earth's surface may be so held; and
our planet may thus lapse into private hands.
[From: Social Statics (1850), Chap.
may by-and-by be perceived that Equity utters dictates to which we
have not yet listened ; and men may then learn that to deprive
others of their rights to the use of the earth, is to commit a crime
inferior only in wickedness to the crime of taking away their lives
or personal liberties."
[Herbert Spencer, Social Statics (1851),
can never be pretended that the existing titles to such property
(i.e., land) are legitimate. Should anyone think so, let him look in
the chronicles. Violence, fraud, the prerogative of force, the
claims of superior cunning -- these are the sources to which these
titles may be traced."
[Herbert Spencer, Social Statics
(1851), Chap. IX]
turned over the soil to a few inches in depth with a spade or a
plough; you have scattered over this prepared surface a few seeds ;
and you have gathered the fruits which the sun, rain, and air helped
the soil to produce. Just tell me, if you please, by what magic have
these acts made you sole owner of that vast mass of matter, having
for its base the surface of your estate, and for its apex the centre
of the globe? . . . You say truly, when you say that 'whilst they
were unreclaimed these lands belonged to all men.' And it is my duty
to tell you that they belong to all men still; and that your '
improvements' as you call them, cannot vitiate the claim of all men.
You may plough and harrow, and sow and reap ; you may turn over the
soil as often as you like; but all your manipulations will fail to
make that soil yours, which was not yours to begin with. . . . This
extra worth which your labour has imparted to it is fairly yours . .
. but admitting this, is quite a different thing from recognising
your right to the land itself."
[Herbert Spencer, Social Statics,
1851, ix, 4]
Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher, in his Tractatus
Politicus proposed that the rents of the soil, supplemented
perhaps by the rents of houses, should defray the expenditures of
the state [Ch VI, On Monarchy, Sec. 12]:
Let the fields, and the whole
soil, and, if it can be managed, the houses should be public
property, that is, the property of him who holds the right of the
commonwealth: and let him let them at a yearly rent to the citizens,
whether townsmen or countrymen, and with this exception let them all
be free, or exempt from every kind of tax in time of peace. And of
this rent a part is to be applied to the defences of the state, a
part to the king's private use.
In the late 1880s, A. T. Stamm, who had previously tried to
start an organization he called "The Society for Humanism,"
sought to form a society, "The All-Weal Union." These
efforts came to naught until Michael Flürscheim launched in
Frankfort the "German Union for Land Ownership Reform." It
gained 600 members. Their educational efforts convinced officials of
the imperial government and navy of the usefulness of the land value
tax for ending land speculation and provided for 16 years a
practical demonstration of that in a large colonial territory,
In 1871, Stamm, in Die Erlosung der darbenden
Menschheit, wrote that private property in land was the cause of
nearly all human ills. In its abolition was to be found the complete
solution of the social problem. Collective ownership might be
effected in several ways, but the best means, Stamm believed, was
gradually to absorb the rent of land by increasing the land tax.
Stamm differed from Henry George, however, in holding that, since
the original wrong of private appropriation of land was not that of
the present but of previous generations, the rights of present
owners should receive some consideration.
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