Wealth and Want
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Harry Pollard writes, "RACK-RENT is the highest amount that can be paid for Land from Labor's production that will enable him to survive (and reproduce). Even as new skills and techniques are adopted, and innovative technology is put to work, so will rack-rent rise, swallowing the lion's share of the product."

The Most Rev. Dr Thomas Nulty, Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath (Ireland): Back to the Land (1881) 

Landlordism Confiscates the Work of Improvers.
But the present system of Land Tenure not merely enables a class to exact from the people of the country a famine price for the use of the land which God made: it also enables them to charge a rent for the use of the improvements on the land which the people themselves made, which are purely the result of their own industry and capital, and which, in fact, on the strictest principles of justice are their own private property. With the knowledge and experience which we have acquired all our lives long of the transactions that are daily taking place between landlords and tenants, the clearest and most convincing proof that can be given of this fact will perhaps be found in the plain and simple statement of it.

The land of Ireland would at this moment still be in its original state of nature had it not been drained, cleared, reclaimed and fertilised by the enormous outlay of labour and capital which has been expended on it by the people of the present and their forefathers in past generations. The landlords contributed nothing, or next to nothing, for its improvement.

Mr. Mill thus writes of the improvement of land in Ireland: "Whenever in any country the proprietors, generally speaking, cease to improve their lands, political economy has nothing to say in defence of landed property as there established.

Landed property in England is very far from completely fulfilling the conditions which render its existence economically justifiable. But if insufficiently realised, even in England, in Ireland those conditions are not complied with at all. With individual exceptions . . . the owners of Irish estates do nothing for the land but drain it of its produce."

Reports of Government Commissions.
The Bessborough and Richmond Commissions recently appealed directly to the nation for information on this important point. The answer which the nation returned was (as everyone knew should be the case), that all, or nearly all the permanent improvements in the soil of the country were effected by the labour and capital of the people of the country. The Bessborough Commissioners write in their report: "As a fact, the removal of masses of rock and stone which, in some parts of Ireland, encumbered the soil, the drainage of the land and erection of buildings, including their own dwellings, have generally been effected by the tenants' labour, unassisted, or only in some instances assisted, by advances from the landlord."

The Work of the Tenants.
The Liberal section of the Richmond Commission write, in their report on the same subject: "In a country like Ireland, where the dwelling houses, farm buildings and other elements of a farm, including often the reclamation from the waste of the cultivated land itself, have been, and must, in our opinion, continue to be, for the most part, the work of the tenants."

Even the Tory section of this Richmond Commission, composed as it is of men of the highest type of Conservatism and Landlordism, observe with a frankness that shows the force of the evidence brought before them:

"Bearing in mind the system by which the improvements, and equipments of a farm are very generally the work of the tenant, and the fact that a yearly tenant is at any time liable to have his rent raised in consequence of the increased value that has been given to his holding by the expenditure of his own capital and labour, the desire for legislative interference to protect him from an arbitrary increase of rent does not seem unnatural."

But further argument in proof of this fact is quite unnecessary, seeing that both Houses of the Legislature bear emphatic testimony to it in that section of the Land Act of 1870, which declares that "all permanent improvements in the soil and on the farm are assumed to have been made by the tenant, except in those cases in which it has been clearly proved they have been made by the landlord." The vast property thus created by the labour and capital of the people, in the permanent improvement of the soil and in the buildings and equipments of their farms, and which has been growing and accumulating for centuries, covers a very considerable part of the aggregate value of the land of the country.

Driven From the Land.
The question then arises, what has become of this enormous property? The correct answer to this question will, I think, be found to be that one part of it has been wantonly wasted and destroyed; that the landlords have coolly appropriated to their own use a second part of it; and that the people pay, at the present moment, a rent for the use of the residue of what was once all their own property.

In the one County of Meath, in this Diocese, there are about 369,000 acres of land laid down in grass seeds or pasture. That vast territory was nearly all parcelled out about the commencement of this century in farms of various sizes, ranging from ten to seventy, eighty or a hundred acres each. These farms were dotted over with clean, commodious, comfortable, whitewashed dwellings, with offices, outhouses and the plant of well-to-do farmers. These dwellings were occupied by a race of the most laborious, industrious, hardworking and virtuous people that ever lived in any country. But, owing to the iniquitous system of Land Tenure, they have been almost all mercilessly evicted and swept away, and every vestige of the vast amount of human life, industry, contentment and happiness that once flourished on these lands has been so carefully obliterated that, looking at them in their present melancholy solitude, one would imagine them to have always been "prairie lands" since the creation.

The property which these poor people possessed in their dwellings and farm houses has been thus wantonly destroyed, and the permanent improvements they had created in the productiveness of the soil were coolly appropriated by the landlords who evicted them.

How Tenants are Rack-rented.
Until the Irish Land League interfered with their operations, these exterminators sold out by public auction every year the use of the people's property, as well as the natural productiveness of the soil, to cattle dealers, for a term of nine, ten or eleven months, and at a rent ranging from £4 to £6 an acre; and they drew from their estates an income twice, and in many instances three times as large as the few honest and honourable proprietors in their neighbourhood who never evicted anyone at all. I need hardly direct attention to the notorious fact that those who have been suffered to remain, were only too glad to be allowed the privilege of paying a rent for the use of the residue of what was once their own property.

The proof of this is plain. Proprietors, in letting their land, do not distinguish between the enormous value superadded to the land by the people's labour and capital for centuries, and the value it has inherited from nature, and, perhaps in some instances, from their own improvements.

They let its whole value from every source at the highest price it will bring. And yet this sorely aggrieved class of men complain that they can not now let their lands as they always let them before, and as all other owners are allowed to sell their property still, on the principle of open competition and free sale!

During the long, large and varied experience the world has had of the letting of land on that principle, was it ever heard that an owner let his land at less than its fair value? -- and surely that fair value included the people's improvements on the land as well as his own. We have seen, on the high authority of Mr. Mill, that it is the almost universal practice of Irish landlords to exact from their tenants in the form of rent the whole produce of the land minus the potatoes that are necessary to keep them from dying of hunger; and surely rack-rents like these cover every form of value the land possesses, and consequently the people's improvements. ...

An Open Violation of the Principles of Justice

Under such a state of things one may well ask, is it in human nature that anyone could have the heart or the enterprise to expend his labour and capital on the permanent improvement of the soil exclusively for the benefit of others, and with a certainty that he will be charged an increased rent for the use of his own property?

How can any government allow the land of a nation to remain in the hands of a class of men who will not improve it themselves, or allow others to improve it either? How can any just government suffer any longer a system of Land Tenure which inflicts irreparable ruin on the general industry and prosperity of a nation, and which is maintained solely for the purpose of giving the landlords an opportunity of plundering the class of industrious, improving tenants which it is specially bound to protect and defend?  Read the whole letter

Henry George:  The Land Question (1881)

As to Belgium, let me quote the high authority of the distinguished Belgian publicist, M. Émile de Laveleye, of the University of Liége. He says that the Belgian tenantfarmers – for tenancy largely prevails even where the land is most minutely divided – are rack-rented with a mercilessness unknown in England or even in Ireland, and are compelled to vote as their landlords dictate! ...

The truth is that the Irish land system is simply the general system of modern civilization. In no essential feature does it differ from the system that obtains here – in what we are accustomed to consider the freest country under the sun. Entails and primogeniture and family settlements may be in themselves bad things, and may sometimes interfere with putting the land to its best use, but their effects upon the relations of landlord and tenant are not worth talking about. As for rack-rent, which is simply a rent fixed at short intervals by competition, that is in the United States even a more common way of letting land than in Ireland. In our cities the majority of our people live in houses rented from month to month or year to year for the highest price the landlord thinks he can get. The usual term, in the newer States, at least, for the letting of agricultural land is from season to season. And that the rent of land in the United States comes, on the whole, more closely to the standard of rack, or full competition rent, there can be, I think, little doubt. That the land of Ireland is, as the apologists for landlordism say, largely under-rented (that is, not rented for the full amount the landlord might get with free competition) is probably true. Miss C. G. O'Brien, in a recent article in the Nineteenth Century, states that the tenant-farmers generally get for such patches as they sub-let to their laborers twice the rent they pay the landlords. And we hear incidentally of many "good landlords," i.e., landlords not in the habit of pushing their tenants for as much as they might get by rigorously demanding all that any one would give. ... read the whole article

Henry George: The Condition of Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)

I have already referred generally to the defects that attach to all socialistic remedies for the evil condition of labor, but respect for your Holiness dictates that I should speak specifically, even though briefly, of the remedies proposed or suggested by you.

Of these, the widest and strongest are that the state should restrict the hours of labor, the employment of women and children, the unsanitary conditions of workshops, etc. Yet how little may in this way be accomplished.

A strong, absolute ruler might hope by such regulations to alleviate the conditions of chattel slaves. But the tendency of our times is toward democracy, and democratic states are necessarily weaker in paternalism, while in the industrial slavery, growing out of private ownership of land, that prevails in Christendom today, it is not the master who forces the slave to labor, but the slave who urges the master to let him labor. Thus the greatest difficulty in enforcing such regulations comes from those whom they are intended to benefit. It is not, for instance, the masters who make it difficult to enforce restrictions on child labor in factories, but the mothers, who, prompted by poverty, misrepresent the ages of their children even to the masters, and teach the children to misrepresent.

But while in large factories and mines regulations as to hours, ages, etc., though subject to evasion and offering opportunities for extortion and corruption, may be to some extent enforced, how can they have any effect in those far wider branches of industry where the laborer works for himself or for small employers?

All such remedies are of the nature of the remedy for overcrowding that is generally prescribed with them — the restriction under penalty of the number who may occupy a room and the demolition of unsanitary buildings. Since these measures have no tendency to increase house accommodation or to augment ability to pay for it, the overcrowding that is forced back in some places goes on in other places and to a worse degree. All such remedies begin at the wrong end. They are like putting on brake and bit to hold in quietness horses that are being lashed into frenzy; they are like trying to stop a locomotive by holding its wheels instead of shutting off steam; like attempting to cure smallpox by driving back its pustules. Men do not overwork themselves because they like it; it is not in the nature of the mother’s heart to send children to work when they ought to be at play; it is not of choice that laborers will work under dangerous and unsanitary conditions. These things, like overcrowding, come from the sting of poverty. And so long as the poverty of which they are the expression is left untouched, restrictions such as you indorse can have only partial and evanescent results. The cause remaining, repression in one place can only bring out its effects in other places, and the task you assign to the state is as hopeless as to ask it to lower the level of the ocean by bailing out the sea.

Nor can the state cure poverty by regulating wages. It is as much beyond the power of the state to regulate wages as it is to regulate the rates of interest. Usury laws have been tried again and again, but the only effect they have ever had has been to increase what the poorer borrowers must pay, and for the same reasons that all attempts to lower by regulation the price of goods have always resulted merely in increasing them. The general rate of wages is fixed by the ease or difficulty with which labor can obtain access to land, ranging from the full earnings of labor, where land is free, to the least on which laborers can live and reproduce, where land is fully monopolized. Thus, where it has been comparatively easy for laborers to get land, as in the United States and in Australasia, wages have been higher than in Europe and it has been impossible to get European laborers to work there for wages that they would gladly accept at home; while as monopolization goes on under the influence of private property in land, wages tend to fall, and the social conditions of Europe to appear. Thus, under the partial yet substantial recognition of common rights to land, of which I have spoken, the many attempts of the British Parliament to reduce wages by regulation failed utterly. And so, when the institution of private property in land had done its work in England, all attempts of Parliament to raise wages proved unavailing. In the beginning of this century it was even attempted to increase the earnings of laborers by grants in aid of wages. But the only result was to lower commensurately what wages employers paid.

The state could maintain wages above the tendency of the market (for as I have shown labor deprived of land becomes a commodity), only by offering employment to all who wish it; or by lending its sanction to strikes and supporting them with its funds. Thus it is, that the thoroughgoing socialists who want the state to take all industry into its hands are much more logical than those timid socialists who propose that the state should regulate private industry — but only a little.

The same hopelessness attends your suggestion that working-people should be encouraged by the state in obtaining a share of the land. It is evident that by this you mean that, as is now being attempted in Ireland, the state shall buy out large landowners in favor of small ones, establishing what are known as peasant proprietors. Supposing that this can be done even to a considerable extent, what will be accomplished save to substitute a larger privileged class for a smaller privileged class? What will be done for the still larger class that must remain, the laborers of the agricultural districts, the workmen of the towns, the proletarians of the cities? Is it not true, as Professor De Laveleye says, that in such countries as Belgium, where peasant proprietary exists, the tenants, for there still exist tenants, are rack-rented with a mercilessness unknown in Ireland? Is it not true that in such countries as Belgium the condition of the mere laborer is even worse than it is in Great Britain, where large ownerships obtain? And if the state attempts to buy up land for peasant proprietors will not the effect be, what is seen today in Ireland, to increase the market value of land and thus make it more difficult for those not so favored, and for those who will come after, to get land? How, moreover, on the principle which you declare (36), that “to the state the interests of all are equal, whether high or low,” will you justify state aid to one man to buy a bit of land without also insisting on state aid to another man to buy a donkey, to another to buy a shop, to another to buy the tools and materials of a trade — state aid in short to everybody who may be able to make good use of it or thinks that he could? And are you not thus landed in communism — not the communism of the early Christians and of the religious orders, but communism that uses the coercive power of the state to take rightful property by force from those who have, to give to those who have not? For the state has no purse of Fortunatus; the state cannot repeat the miracle of the loaves and fishes; all that the state can give, it must get by some form or other of the taxing power. And whether it gives or lends money, or gives or lends credit, it cannot give to those who have not, without taking from those who have.

But aside from all this, any scheme of dividing up land while maintaining private property in land is futile. Small holdings cannot coexist with the treatment of land as private property where civilization is materially advancing and wealth augments. We may see this in the economic tendencies that in ancient times were the main cause that transformed world-conquering Italy from a land of small farms to a land of great estates. We may see it in the fact that while two centuries ago the majority of English farmers were owners of the land they tilled, tenancy has been for a long time the all but universal condition of the English farmer. And now the mighty forces of steam and electricity have come to urge concentration. It is in the United States that we may see on the largest scale how their power is operating to turn a nation of landowners into a nation of tenants. The principle is clear and irresistible. Material progress makes land more valuable, and when this increasing value is left to private owners land must pass from the ownership of the poor into the ownership of the rich, just as diamonds so pass when poor men find them. What the British government is attempting in Ireland is to build snow-houses in the Arabian desert! to plant bananas in Labrador!

There is one way, and only one way, in which working-people in our civilization may be secured a share in the land of their country, and that is the way that we propose — the taking of the profits of landownership for the community.


... read the whole letter



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

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