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The Landless

A chattel slave knew he was a slave; he knew he was bought to labor and he knew the indentures of his servitude. He endured conditions every day which reminded him of his status. In a democracy such as this, the landless laborer is given what is called the freeman's certificate, a vote, but he is nevertheless a slave under a system of private ownership of the rent of land. He has to pay a fellow mortal for the right to use the earth, the only source from which he can draw his sustenance. — Francis Neilson, Man at The Crossroads, p.219

Henry George: Thy Kingdom Come (1889 speech)

... The story goes on to describe how the roads of heaven, the streets of the New Jerusalem, were filled with disconsolate tramp angels, who had pawned their wings, and were outcasts in Heaven itself.

You laugh, and it is ridiculous. But there is a moral in it that is worth serious thought. Is it not ridiculous to imagine the application to God’s heaven of the same rules of division that we apply to God’s earth, even while we pray that His will may be done on earth as it is done in Heaven?

Really, if we could imagine it, it is impossible to think of heaven treated as we treat this earth, without seeing that, no matter how salubrious were its air, no matter how bright the light that filled it, no matter how magnificent its vegetable growth, there would be poverty, and suffering, and a division of classes in heaven itself, if heaven were parcelled out as we have parceled out the earth. And, conversely, if people were to act towards each other as we must suppose the inhabitants of heaven to do, would not this earth be a very heaven?

“Thy kingdom come.” No one can think of the kingdom for which the prayer asks without feeling that it must be a kingdom of justice and equality — not necessarily of equality in condition, but of equality in opportunity. And no one can think of it without seeing that a very kingdom of God might be brought on this earth if people would but seek to do justice — if people would but acknowledge the essential principle of Christianity, that of doing to others as we would have others do to us, and of recognising that we are all here equally the children of the one Father, equally entitled to share His bounty, equally entitled to live our lives and develop our faculties, and to apply our labour to the raw material that He has provided.  ... Read the whole speech

Henry George: The Wages of Labor
The organisation of man is such, his relations to the world in which he is placed are such – that is to say, the immutable laws of God are such that it is beyond the power of human ingenuity to devise any way by which the evils born of the injustice that robs men of their birthright can be removed otherwise than by opening to all the bounty that God has provided for all!

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 follow 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 labor to those who own 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 mass of mere laborers – who of themselves have no power to use their labor – the benefits of any advance or improvement that does not alter this unjust division of land?

Having no Power to employ themselves, they must, either as labor-sellers or land-renters, compete with one another for permission to labor; and this competition with one another of men shut out from God’s inexhaustible storehouse, must ultimately force wages to their lowest point, the point at which life can just be maintained. ...

Land being necessary to life and labor, where private property in land has divided society into a landowning class and a landless class, there is no possible invention or improvement, whether it be industrial, social, or moral, which, so long as it does not affect the ownership of land can prevent poverty or relieve the general conditions of mere laborers.

For, whether the effect of any invention or improvement be to increase what labor can produce or to decrease what is required to support the laborer, it can, so soon as it becomes general, result only in increasing the income of the owners of land, without benefiting the mere laborers.  ...

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 article

Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)

e. Effect of Retaining Rent for Common Use.

If society retained Rent for common purposes, all incentive to hold land for any other object than immediate use would disappear. The effect may be illustrated by a comparison of the last preceding chart with the following: [chart]

There is but one difference between this chart and the chart immediately preceding. In that Rent is confiscated to private use, whereas in this Rent is retained for common use. All the labor force indicated with red in the first of the two charts would not more than utilize the space to the left and part of the adjoining one, which would elevate Wages to what, with the given labor force, could be produced from the poorer of the two spaces. After that, increase of Rent would not enrich land-owners at the expense of other classes; it would enrich the whole community.108

108. The laborer would receive in Distribution all that he earned and no more than he earned in Production; and that is the natural law.

In social conditions, where industry is subdivided and trade is intricate, it is impossible to say arbitrarily what is the equivalent of given labor. Hence no statute fixing the compensation for labor can really be operative. All that we can say is that labor is worth what men freely contract to give and take for it. But it must be what they freely contract to take as well as what they freely contract to give; and men are not free to contract for the sale of their labor when labor generally is so divorced from land as to abnormally glut the labor market and make men's sale of their labor for almost anything the buyer offers, the alternative of starvation. Laborers may be as truly enslaved by divorcing labor from land as by driving them with a whip.

... read the book

Nic Tideman: Basic Tenets of the Incentive Taxation Philosophy

Applications Abroad as Well as at Home
As important as our ideas are for the justice and efficiency of the American economy, their application is even more important in less developed countries, where often 80% of the land is held by 3% of the population. To give all the citizens of these countries chances to make something of their lives, it is extremely important to equalize access to land, not by redividing the land (which inevitably winds up putting land into the hands of people who cannot use it well) but by requiring any one who uses land to pay according to the unimproved value of the land that he or she uses. To bring this message to the world, we must first apply it to ourselves. ...  Read the whole article

Mason Gaffney:  Full Employment, Growth And Progress On A Small Planet: Relieving Poverty While Healing The Earth

Lands with open access (e.g. parks, and public rights-of-way) are already common property, and should not be taxed. Land taxes are needed only to compensate the landless for tenure – the right to exclude others – that society grants to the landed in preference to the landless. Common carriers, with rates regulated to reasonable levels, would seem to be a form of open access. In practise, the last point means that public utilities should be rate-regulated, instead of being taxed and then allowed to shift the taxes forward to customers. ...

Alternatively, if we accept the income and sales taxes as “givens,” we must allow that they are both outrageously favorable to owner-occupants, so there is no overall merit in jiggering the local property tax the same way. On the contrary, owner-occupied housing is an unpreempted tax base that localities should seize, to redress the balance.

By focusing on gains to “homeowners,” Georgist campaigners are misstating the revolutionary implications of their own reform, and confusing their audiences. George spoke for the landless, the tenants, the young, the upwardly mobile, orphans with nothing to inherit (as opposed to the mythical orphans who own all the property in the country), the students and trainees, the exploited workers, the innovators and entrepreneurs and adventurers who turn their capital and turn the wheels of capitalism – not so much for stolid settled burghers and retirees who own land. Their buildings, yes, he would exempt. But if those buildings rest on land of high social utility, they are playing the role of land speculators. Call them Type #3 speculators: the “passive-aggressive” type. (For Types #1 and #2, see item 9, below.) ... Read the whole article

Karl Williams:  Land Value Taxation: The Overlooked But Vital Eco-Tax
I. Historical overview
II. The problem of sprawl
III. Affordable and efficient public transport
IV. Agricultural benefits
V. Financial concerns
VI. Conclusion: A greater perspective
Appendix: "Natural Capitalism" -- A Case Study in Blindness to Land Value Taxation

For reasons similar to those we've seen with the example of landowners benefiting from investment in infrastructure, much aid to developing countries does little to alleviate the plight and environmentally-destructive practices of the desperate landless, who can only work on the conditions demanded by the landowners because of the aforementioned monopolistic qualities of land. Improvements to infrastructure simply boost land values and the rents demanded of the landless. Furthermore, as Banks notes, "Canceling part of the debt amounts to the infusion of billions of dollars into these less developed countries which, under the existing tenure and tax regimes, would benefit the price of land rather than provide work for the landless." read the entire article

The Most Rev. Dr Thomas Nulty, Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath (Ireland): Back to the Land (1881) 
The Landlord the Greatest Burden on the Land.
The land is a commodity that strictly belongs to this class. It is limited in extent, and no human power can enlarge or extend its area. The competition for it is excessive, the competitors struggling for its attainment -- not for the purpose of satisfying a taste for the fine arts, or to gratify a passion for the rare or beautiful, but to secure a necessary means of existence: for they must live on and by the land, or they cannot live at all. The owner, therefore, of that land can put on it any rent he pleases, and the poor people competing for it have no choice but to accept his terms or die in a ditch or a poorhouse. Under the present system of Land Tenure, the owners are not only enabled, but actually exact for the use of the land the last shilling the tenant is able to pay, leaving him only what is barely sufficient to keep him from dying.

Mr. Mill, who is the highest of all authorities on this subject, thus writes on the letting of land as it is actually carried out in Ireland: "With individual exceptions (some of them very honourable ones) the owners of Irish estates do nothing for the land but drain it of its produce. What has been epigrammatically said in the discussions on 'peculiar burdens' is literally true when applied to them, that the greatest 'burden' on the land is the landlords. Returning nothing to the soil, they consume its whole produce, minus the potatoes strictly necessary to keep the inhabitants from dying of famine."  ...  Read the whole letter

a synopsis of Robert V. Andelson and James M. Dawsey: From Wasteland to Promised land: Liberation Theology for a Post-Marxist World
In How the Other Half Dies, Susan George wrote that "The most pressing cause of the abject poverty which millions of people in this world endure is that a mere 2.5% of landowners with more than 100 hectares control nearly three quarters of all the land in the world - with the top 0.23% controlling half." To recognize this social plague for what it is, and to avert a backlash of despair, requires a clear understanding of two great themes: the Promised Land and the Wasteland. ...

The point of departure of liberation theology is the recognition of the awful fact that millions lead subhuman lives. The rural landless seek refuge in cities, often becoming squatters in barrios or favelas with open sewage and no safe water supply. They may earn fifteen dollars a month if they find work at all. Children live in the streets and go to bed hungry. Illness and drought, and even complaining of their lot, may lead to premature death. And they can see the Mercedes behind the iron gates of walled mansions. (Ironically, mercedes is also a Spanish legal term denoting title to a large grant of land.) Like poor Lazarus in the parable of Jesus (Luke 16:19-31), they survive on the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table. When judgement comes to the rich man, he receives no mercy because he had shown none. ...  Read the whole synopsis

Henry George: How to Help the Unemployed    (1894)
Today, as the last census reports show, the majority of American farmers are rack-rented tenants, or hold under mortgage, the first form of tenancy; and the great majority of our people are landless men, without right to employ their own labor and without stake in the land they still foolishly speak of as their country. This is the reason why the army of the unemployed has appeared among us, why by pauperism has already become chronic, and why in the tramp we have in more dangerous type the proletarian of ancient Rome.  Read the entire article

Dan Sullivan: Are you a Real Libertarian, or a ROYAL Libertarian?
When the state granted land titles to a fraction of the population, it gave that fraction devices with which to levy, and pocket, tolls on the fruits of the labor of others. Those without land privileges must either buy or rent those privileges from the people who received the grants or from their assignees. Thus the state titles enable large landowners to collect a transfer payment, or "free lunch" from the actual land users. ... Read the whole piece

Bill Batt: The Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
The focus of Henry George’s inquiry, and of his disciples, is the pursuit of justice. Economic justice is an agenda which ecological economists also subscribe to, even though their immediate focus is concern about the earth’s survival at all, let alone the distribution of its fruits. Here, however, is where the Georgist tradition is able to contribute most to the environmental justice program. There is a broad appreciation, particularly among ecological economists that have worked in poorer nations, that natural resources are endangered every bit as much by the scarcity of basic necessities as by overpopulation. Urban elites usurp high value lands and retain land rents growing out of their production; poor people are marginalized and left to fend for themselves. They often survive by taking what little environmental resources are left on ravaged land sites, further reducing the resiliency of these local ecologies. Collection and redistribution of land rents, either in the form of public services or in the form of a citizens’ dividends, offers a way to restore equity without redistribution of land titles and without all the dislocations this might entail. Many third world leaders at the present time see solutions to poverty and economic inequality in the redistribution of land titles. Georgists argue that this is not necessary; all that is necessary is to recover the land rent and assure its equitable distribution to rightful claimants. ... read the whole article

Mason Gaffney: 18 Fallacies
4. "If property falls, America falls"
Wrong, at least in my opinion. Property is not an end in itself; it is a means of getting resources put to their best use for the general good.

To secure that end, property rights are instituted among men, deriving their just standing from the consent of the unpropertied.

Whenever any form of property becomes destructive of that end, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new principles most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Consent of the unpropertied?

That means property must work for the benefit of all, not just those who own property.

But abolish property!?

That is a red flag indeed, but note I said alter or abolish, and it is our own Declaration of Independence I am paraphrasing.

Like Jefferson, I generally prefer alter to abolish: 'abolishing' something is nihilistic until we know what we want to replace it with.

The point is, we have many degrees of freedom as citizens; we are not bound body and soul by decisions made, or allegedly made, in the past.  ... Read the whole article

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