Wealth and Want
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Classical Liberals
Dan Sullivan: Are you a Real Libertarian, or a ROYAL Libertarian?
According to royal libertarians, land becomes private property when one mixes one's labor with it. And mixing what is yours with what is not yours in order to own the whole thing is considered great sport. But the notion is filled with problems. How much labor does it take to claim land, and how much land can one claim for that labor? And for how long can one make that claim?

According to classical liberals, land belonged to the user for as long as the land was being used, and no longer. But according to royal libertarians, land belongs to the first user, forever. So, do the oceans belong to the heirs of the first person to take a fish out or put a boat in? Does someone who plows the same field each year own only one field, while someone who plows a different field each year owns dozens of fields? Should the builder of the first transcontinental railroad own the continent? Shouldn't we at least have to pay a toll to cross the tracks? Are there no common rights to the earth at all? To royal libertarians there are not, but classical liberals recognized that unlimited ownership of land never flowed from use, but from the state:

A right of property in movable things is admitted before the establishment of government. A separate property in lands not till after that establishment.... He who plants a field keeps possession of it till he has gathered the produce, after which one has as good a right as another to occupy it. Government must be established and laws provided, before lands can be separately appropriated and their owner protected in his possession. Till then the property is in the body of the nation. --Thomas Jefferson ...

Classical liberals recognized that exclusive access to land, and especially to more land than one was using, was a privilege that should be paid for, thereby eliminating the need for taxes. It is not a fee for using land, but a fee for the state privilege of denying use of that land to everyone else.

Men did not make the earth.... It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.... Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds. --Tom Paine, "Agrarian Justice," paragraphs 11 to 15

Another means of silently lessening the inequality of [landed] property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise. --Thomas Jefferson

Today's land value tax advocates consider graduated land value tax to be unnecessary and problematic, leading to artificial subdivision (and phony subdivision) of land. The point is that Jefferson, to whom libertarians pay homage, considered land monopoly a great evil and land value tax a remedy, as did many other classical liberals:

Ground rents are a species of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own. Ground rents are, therefore, perhaps a species of revenue which can best bear to have a peculiar tax imposed upon them. --Adam Smith

Landlords grow richer in their sleep, without working, risking, or economizing. The increase in the value of land, arising as it does from the efforts of an entire community, should belong to the community and not to the individual who might hold title. --John Stuart Mill ...

Socialist Confusions
The classical liberal distinctions between land, labor and capital were greatly confused by socialists, and particularly Marxists, who substituted the fuzzy abstract term, "means of production," for all three factors. They also blurred the distinction between common property and state property, for socialists believed, as royalty also believed, that they were the people.

Today, the confusions between land and capital and between state property and common property are shared by socialists and royal libertarians, and only classical liberals keep these distinctions clearly defined. Yet royal libertarians frequently duck the land issue by charging that it is the classical liberals, not the royal libertarians, who have embraced socialist ideas.... Read the whole piece


Publisher's pamphlet, circa 1970:
    The republication of any Churchill work after sixty years is an event commanding widespread public interest. Such attention is owed the rich desert of The People's Rights, last published at the culmination of the election campaign of 1909/10, when the speeches from which Churchill compiled the book were delivered.

    Many a reader will find himself astonished that so vivid a portrayal of one of the great men of our time should have lain so long out of print. Yet modern readers will miss much of the value of the book if it is read only for the brilliant and sometimes surprising insight into this vital stage of Churchill's political development.

   For the principles and aspirations set out here are not those of the individual, but the life force of the great movement that reached its zenith in the Liberal Governments of Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman and Herbert Asquith that followed the landslide Liberal victory of 1906. If one dares to summarise the purpose and vision of Liberal leaders of that time, it was to bring in a society in which the poverty and social injustice of the previous century would be eradicated without diminishing the liberty and independence of the individual. The incentive would remain to develop his abilities to the full for the good of himself and of the community. ...

Apart from Free Trade, the great economic and social issues were taxation and the alleviation of poverty. The Liberals were concerned to remove the basic cause of the problem -- not just to mitigate its undesirable effects.

    It was the American economist Henry George who, towards the end of the 19th century, had examined the paradox of the age in his Progress and Poverty. His principles had a major impact, first upon the radicals of Scotland and Ireland, including Campbell Bannerman himself; and later upon the policy of the Liberal Party.

    Henry George propounded that whilst people have the right to possess what they produce, or receive in exchange for their work, there is no such right to private ownership of the elements upon which all depend -- air, water, sunshine and land. Indeed, George held the right of access to these basic elements as strong and equal as the right to life itself, and that if private ownership of basic elements is permitted, suppression and exploitation of one class by another is inevitable. The consequent injustice must become more acute as the community develops.

    Thus it became a major point of Liberal policy to shift taxation from production, and to raise taxation upon the value of land, on the basis that this value, as witnessed by the tremendously high prices even then demanded for commercial land, is created not by any individual but by the existence and work of the whole community. A natural source thus arises from which the community may meet its growing needs without discouraging production or inhibiting the growth of earnings.

    The justice and practicality of this proposition can rarely if ever have enjoyed a more brilliant advocate than Winston Churchill, and today's reader is left to wonder how different might be the present state of Britain had the forces of social change pursued these principles to their enactment. As it was, the great power and intellectual prowess of the Liberal Movement, which had commanded worldwide admiration for the breadth and nobility of its vision, was soon to be dissipated by war, internal feuding and the fear of Bolshevism.      

    Under the cruel heel of war and unemployment, Britons came to value security more and independence less. The emphasis in social advance shifted to the massive provision of public benefits, and the increasing intervention of the State in almost every area of human activity. The two World Wars and the great depression between them severed, to a great extent, the line of liberal thought that had developed over the previous century.

    Of Churchill himself, one can only feel that he was fated to be the great war leader. Certainly, opposition to communism and later to the rise of European tyrannies dominated the remainder of his political life. It is perhaps ironic that a reason so often given for his dismissal in 1945 is that he was not capable of dealing with social problems, and thus was unfit to be a peacetime leader.

    The People's Rights tells a very different story and comes now not as a document of historic interest but as a challenge to politicians, indeed to the entire electorate, to consider again the causes of poverty and the basic issues of social and economic justice. Perhaps current disillusionment with politics springs from a sense that if justice in the community can only be achieved at the expense of individual liberty, the price -- especially in terms of ever-increasing taxation and bureaucracy -- is too high to pay.

    As a proposition that justice in the community and the freedom of the individual are complementary and that taxes may be raised without undermining either, The People's Rights comes as a major contribution to current political and economic thought. Indeed it deserves a place in the annals of Man's struggle for freedom and yearning for a society in which the genius of every person would be nurtured and the liberty of every person respected.

John Nixon's Review of The People's Rights

    Churchill as Classical Liberal

    Churchill's pre-World War I books tend to be overlooked by casual students of The Great Man. which is unfortunate as they are well written and present a great variety for the reader: four war histories, a novel, a biography, a travelogue, three speech compilations, and a political campaign statement, The People's Rights. ... Read the whole piece

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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper