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Air, Water, Land


William Ogilvie: An Essay on the Right of Property in Land (Scotland, 1782)
All Right of property is founded either in occupancy or labour. The earth having been given to mankind in common occupancy, each individual seems to have by nature a right to possess and cultivate an equal share. This right is little different from that which he has to the free use of the open air and running water; though not so indispensably requisite at short intervals for his actual existence, it is not less essential to the welfare and right state of his life through all its progressive stages. ... Read the entire essay
D. C. MacDonald: Preface (1891?) to Ogilvie's Essay (circa 1782)
Professor Ogilvie, who came after Locke, devotes himself in this treatise to one subject - Birthright in land, it may be called. And the Author may be justly styled - The Euclid of Land Law Reform. He has left little or nothing unsolved in connection with the Land Question. He has given us a true base line -- man’s equal right to the raw material of the earth, to the air, to the water, to the rays of the sun, and all natural products -- from which we can work out any problem, and by which we can test the “title and measure” of every man’s property. Resting on this baseline -- man’s natural rights -- he represents to us the perpendicular line of man's right to labour, “with security of reaping its full produce and just reward.” Here we have the question in a nutshell. Take away the base line, and you have no right to labour, and no produce or reward, except what may be meted out by the usurper of your natural rights. You have to beg for leave to toil! We thus see clearly how the robbery of labour may be prevented, and how impossible it is to put a stop to such robbery while the industrial classes neglect to claim and exercise their natural right -- their right to an equal share in the earth, and all its natural products.   ...   Read the entire preface

Arthur J. Ogilvy: A Colonist's Plea for Land Nationalization (about 1890)

But in the case of this unearned increment on land there is no pretence of any exchange. I offer for it neither labour nor the produce of labour. All I do is to place my hand on a certain portion of the earth's surface, and say, "No one shall use this without paying me for the mere permission to use it." I am rendering no more service in return for this extra pound, either to the purchaser or to society, than if I had acquired exclusive title to the air, and charged people for permission to breathe. And if, instead of selling my land for an additional pound, I let it at a proportionately additional rent the principle would be the same. ... read the whole paper.

Robert H. Browne: Abraham Lincoln and the Men of His Time

“Christ knew better than we that 'No man having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God;' nor is many man doing his duty who shrinks and is faithless to his fellow-men. Now a word more about Abolitionists and new ideas in Government, whatever they may be: We are all called Abolitionists now who desire any restriction of slavery or believe that the system is wrong, as I have declared for years. We are called so, not to help out a peaceful solution, but in derision, to abase us, and enable the defamers to make successful combinations against us. I never was much annoyed by these, less now than ever. I favor the best plan to restrict the extension of slavery peacefully, and fully believe that we must reach some plan that will do it, and provide for some method of final extinction of the evil, before we can have permanent peace on the subject. On other questions there is ample room for reform when the time comes; but now it would be folly to think that we could undertake more than we have on hand. But when slavery is over with and settled, men should never rest content while oppressions, wrongs, and iniquities are in force against them.

“The land, the earth that God gave to man for his home, his sustenance, and support, should never be the possession of any man, corporation, society, or unfriendly Government, any more than the air or the water, if as much. An individual company or enterprise requiring land should hold no more in their own right than is needed for their home and sustenance, and never more than they have in actual use in the prudent management of their legitimate business, and this much should not be permitted when it creates an exclusive monopoly. All that is not so used should be held for the free use of every family to make homesteads, and to hold them as long as they are so occupied.

“A reform like this will be worked out some time in the future. The idle talk of foolish men, that is so common now, on 'Abolitionists, agitators, and disturbers of the peace,' will find its way against it, with whatever force it may possess, and as strongly promoted and carried on as it can be by land monopolists, grasping landlords, and the titled and untitled senseless enemies of mankind everywhere.” ... read extended excerpts

Henry George: The Wages of Labor

Man, physically, can live only on and from land, and can use elements such as air, sunshine, and water, only by the use of land. ...  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.) ...

3. That private property in land deprives no one of the use of land. (8.)

Your own statement that land is the inexhaustible storehouse that God owes to man must have aroused in your Holiness’s mind an uneasy questioning of its appropriation as private property, for, as though to reassure yourself, you proceed to argue that its ownership by some will not injure others. You say in substance, that even though divided among private owners the earth does not cease to minister to the needs of all, since those who do not possess the soil can by selling their labor obtain in payment the produce of the land.

Suppose that to your Holiness as a judge of morals one should put this case of conscience:

I am one of several children to whom our father left a field abundant for our support. As he assigned no part of it to any one of us in particular, leaving the limits of our separate possession to be fixed by ourselves, I being the eldest took the whole field in exclusive ownership. But in doing so I have not deprived my brothers of their support from it, for I have let them work for me on it, paying them from the produce as much wages as I would have had to pay strangers. Is there any reason why my conscience should not be clear?

What would be your answer? Would you not tell him that he was in mortal sin, and that his excuse added to his guilt? Would you not call on him to make restitution and to do penance?

Or, suppose that as a temporal prince your Holiness were ruler of a rainless land, such as Egypt, where there were no springs or brooks, their want being supplied by a bountiful river like the Nile. Supposing that having sent a number of your subjects to make fruitful this land, bidding them do justly and prosper, you were told that some of them had set up a claim of ownership in the river, refusing the others a drop of water, except as they bought it of them; and that thus they had become rich without work, while the others, though working hard, were so impoverished by paying for water as to be hardly able to exist?

Would not your indignation wax hot when this was told?

Suppose that then the river-owners should send to you and thus excuse their action:

The river, though divided among private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all, for there is no one who drinks who does not drink of the water of the river. Those who do not possess the water of the river contribute their labor to get it; so that it may be truly said that all water is supplied either from one’s own river, or from some laborious industry which is paid for either in the water, or in that which is exchanged for the water.

Would the indignation of your Holiness be abated? Would it not wax fiercer yet for the insult to your intelligence of this excuse?

I do not need more formally to show your Holiness that between utterly depriving a man of God’s gifts and depriving him of God’s gifts unless he will buy them, is merely the difference between the robber who leaves his victim to die and the robber who puts him to ransom. But I would like to point out how your statement that “the earth, though divided among private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all” overlooks the largest facts.

From your palace of the Vatican the eye may rest on the expanse of the Campagna, where the pious toil of religious congregations and the efforts of the state are only now beginning to make it possible for men to live. Once that expanse was tilled by thriving husbandmen and dotted with smiling hamlets. What for centuries has condemned it to desertion? History tells us. It was private property in land; the growth of the great estates of which Pliny saw that ancient Italy was perishing; the cause that, by bringing failure to the crop of men, let in the Goths and Vandals, gave Roman Britain to the worship of Odin and Thor, and in what were once the rich and populous provinces of the East shivered the thinned ranks and palsied arms of the legions on the simitars of Mohammedan hordes, and in the sepulcher of our Lord and in the Church of St. Sophia trampled the cross to rear the crescent!

If you will go to Scotland, you may see great tracts that under the Gaelic tenure, which recognized the right of each to a foothold in the soil, bred sturdy men, but that now, under the recognition of private property in land, are given up to wild animals. If you go to Ireland, your Bishops will show you, on lands where now only beasts graze, the traces of hamlets that, when they were young priests, were filled with honest, kindly, religious people.*

* Let any one who wishes visit this diocese and see with his own eyes the vast and boundless extent of the fairest land in Europe that has been ruthlessly depopulated since the commencement of the present century, and which is now abandoned to a loneliness and solitude more depressing than that of the prairie or the wilderness. Thus has this land system actually exercised the power of life and death on a vast scale, for which there is no parallel even in the dark records of slavery. — Bishop Nulty’s Letter to the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese of Meath.

If you will come to the United States, you will find in a land wide enough and rich enough to support in comfort the whole population of Europe, the growth of a sentiment that looks with evil eye on immigration, because the artificial scarcity that results from private property in land makes it seem as if there is not room enough and work enough for those already here.

Or go to the Antipodes, and in Australia, as in England, you may see that private property in land is operating to leave the land barren and to crowd the bulk of the population into great cities. Go wherever you please where the forces loosed by modern invention are beginning to be felt and you may see that private property in land is the curse, denounced by the prophet, that prompts men to lay field to field till they “alone dwell in the midst of the earth.

To the mere materialist this is sin and shame. Shall we to whom this world is God’s world — we who hold that man is called to this life only as a prelude to a higher life — shall we defend it? .. read the whole letter

Bill Batt: How Our Towns Got That Way   (1996 speech)

As land came to be transferred to other nobility and usurped under title in fee simple rather than in usufruct, it came to be regarded as a private financial asset. Earlier it was regarded as part of nature, much like air, water, wind and weather. Accounting practices now listed land as an asset "owned" in fee simple, and as a liability on the other side of balance sheets in money "owed" to banks. This tendency has been extended today so that we have privatized much of our air, water, wind, and even sunlight. Land came to be simply one kind of capital, nothing special, nothing requiring further treatment. Ricardo's Law of Rent became an artifact of intellectual history. The conflation of land into capital to create two-factor economics is one of the greatest paradigm shifts in the evolution of social philosophy. How the premises and terms of economic discourse have been changed has been documented for the first time in a new book by a California professor of economics, Mason Gaffney. The account is put forth in fascinating detail entitled, The Corruption of Economics. It was indeed a corruption of a discipline, a deliberate putsch by powerful economic forces with an interest in seeing such definitions changed, and we have all been paying the price since that time. This revealing thesis is what I really want to relate to you, and to explain the dire consequences it has had for us in our contemporary world. I have come to believe it; it makes sense to me, both historically and in contemporary analysis, from several perspectives. ... read the whole article

Nic Tideman: The Constitutional Conflict Between Protecting Expectations and Moral Evolution

Perhaps, a general recognition of a right of secession will need to wait for another component of moral evolution: a recognition that all persons have equal claims on the value of natural opportunities. If this were recognized, then any nation or region with disproportionately great natural resources would be seen to have an obligation to share the value from using those resources with those parts of the world that have less than average resources per capita. This would eliminate the desire to appropriate natural resources as a reason for secession and as a reason for opposing secession. Signs of a recognition of the equal claims of all persons on the use of natural opportunities are slim. One can point to John Locke:

Whether we consider natural Reason, which tells us, the Men, being once born, have a right to their Preservation, and consequently to Meat and Drink, and such other things, as Nature affords for their Subsistence: Or Revelation, which gives us an account of those Grants God made of the World to Adam, and to Noah, and his Sons, 'tis very clear, that God, as King David says, Psal. CXV. xvi. has given the Earth to the Children of Men, given it to Mankind in common.2

Locke goes on to say that every person has a right to himself, and therefore to the things of value that are created by combining his efforts with natural opportunities, "at least where there is as much and as good left in common for others." He then argues that with so much unclaimed land in America, no one can justly complain if all of Europe is privately appropriated. Locke does not address the question of how rights to land should be handled if there is no unclaimed land.
Thomas Jefferson, writing on the subject of patents, said,

But while it is a moot question whether the origin of any kind of property is derived from nature at all, it would be singular to admit a natural and even an hereditary right to inventors. It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land, for instance.3

Henry George said,

The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air -- it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have the right to be in this world and others no right.

If we are all here by the equal permission of the creator, we are all here with an equal title to the enjoyment of his bounty--with an equal right to the use of all that nature so impartially offers. This is a right which is natural and inalienable; it is a right which vests in every human being as he enters the world, and which during his continuance in the world can be limited only by the equal rights of others.4

General recognition of the equal rights of all to the use of land and other natural opportunities is hard to find. When the powerful nations of the world got together to eject Iraq from Kuwait, very little was heard of the bizarreness of supposing that Emir of Kuwait and his relatives had a right to all the oil that lay under Kuwait. Some recognition of equal rights to the use of natural opportunities can be found in the proposed Law of the Sea Treaty, which would have had all nations benefiting from the granting of franchises to extract minerals from the sea. From an economic perspective, the treaty was flawed by the fact that it would have created an artificial scarcity of seabed mining activities in order to raise revenue, and it was opposed by the U.S. and not implemented. But it did suggest general recognition of global equal rights to at least those natural opportunities that no one has yet begun to use.
One impediment to the recognition of equal rights to the use of natural opportunities is that some system of assessment would be needed to identify the transfers that would compensate for unequal access to natural opportunities. Another impediment is that a system of rewards for those who discover new opportunities would be needed. But if there were a will to address them, these technical difficulties could be solved adequately, as they are in jurisdictions such as Alberta, Canada, that claim all mineral rights for the government.... read the whole article

 


Weld Carter: An Introduction to Henry George

George is largely remembered for the single tax. But the single tax came at the end of a long trail as a means -- the means, he said -- by which to remedy ills previously identified and diagnosed. Behind the single tax lay a closely knit system of thought. To understand George, it is necessary to go behind the single tax and explore that system for its major characteristics.

Notable in George's work is the emphasis he laid on the relation of man to the earth. "The most important of all the material relations of man is his relation to the planet he inhabits." 

George might well be called a land economist, indeed, the foremost land economist. For George, the basic fact of man's physical existence is that he is 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."  "Without either of the three elements, land, air and water, man could not exist; but he is peculiarly a land animal, living on its surface, and drawing from it his supplies." 

So man not only lives off land, levying on it for its materials and forces, but he also lives on land. His very life depends on land. ". ..land is the habitation of man, the store-house upon which he must draw for all his needs, the material to which his labor must be applied for the supply of all his desires; for even the products of the sea cannot be taken, the light of the sun enjoyed, or any of the forces of nature utilized, without the use of land or its products. On the land we are born, from it we live, to it we return again - children of the soil as truly as is the blade of grass or the flower of the field. Take away from man all that belongs to land, and he is but a disembodied spirit." 

Land and man, in that order! These two things are the fundamentals. They are, for instance, the fundamentals of production. It is said that without labor, certainly, there can be no production. Similarly, without land, clearly there can be no agricultural production or mining production. It was just as clear to George that there could be no production of any kind without land. There could be no factory production, no trade, no services rendered, and none of the multitudinous operations of town and city.

All these processes require land: a place, a spot, a site, a location, so many acres or square feet of the earth's surface on which to be performed. "In every form ...the exertion of human labor in the production of wealth requires space; not merely standing or resting space, but moving space -- space for the movements of the human body and its organs, space for the storage and changing in place of materials and tools and products. This is as true of the tailor, the carpenter, the machinist, the merchant or the clerk, as of the farmer or stock-grower, or of the fisherman or miner." 

The office building, the store, the bank, as well as the factory, need land just as do the farm and mine. Land is needed as sites on which to build structures. Likewise, businesses need land as the locations on which to perform their subsequent operations.

George adds: "But it may be said, as I have often heard it said, 'We do not all want land! We cannot all become farmers!' To this I reply that we do all want land, though it may be in different ways and in varying degrees. Without land no human being can live; without land no human occupation can be carried on. Agriculture is not the only use of land. It is only one of many. And just as the uppermost story of the tallest building rests upon land as truly as the lowest, so is the operative as truly a user of land as is the farmer. As all wealth is in the last analysis the resultant of land and labor, so is all production in the last analysis the expenditure of labor upon land." 

The railroad needs land, not just for its terminals and depots but for its very roadbeds; whoever uses the railroad uses the land that the railroad occupies, as well as the improvements the railroad affords. The State needs land not only for parks and reservoirs but for schools and courts, for hospitals and prisons, and for roads and highways with which to link its residents together.

Our homes require land, whether the home is a country estate, a city apartment, or a room in hotel or tenement. Our diversions require land, whether for a ride in the country, a round on the golf course, a seat at the theatre, or a chair in the library or before the television set. "Physically we are air-breathing, light-requiring land animals, who for our existence and all our production require place on the dry surface of our globe. And the fundamental perception of the concept land -- whether in the wider use of the word as that term of political economy signifying all that external nature offers to the use of man, or in the narrower sense which the word usually bears in common speech, where it signifies the solid surface of the earth -- is that of extension; that of affording standing-place or room."

In George's view, man's dependence on land is universal and endless, "...for land is the indispensible prerequisite to life."  "What is inexplicable, if we lose sight of man's absolute and constant dependence upon land, is clear when we recognize it."

Here then is the main element, the distinctive characteristic, of George's work. In George's view, man's relation to the earth is his primary material relation. All other influences, therefore, must be appraised as to how they affect, or are affected by, this basic relation. It is perhaps this to which Soule refers when he says, of Progress and Poverty, "This book expounded a theory developed with superb logic." ... read the whole article

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