Robert M. LaFollette
[Originally published in Progressive.
Reprinted from Land and Freedom, May-June, 1935]
AS the new dealers deal and the nation wrestles with economic
problems of unprecedented magnitude, there arises occasionally one of
those who still cherish the idea of "the single tax" or are
otherwise disciples of the late Henry George.
Every so often an example is cited where the "unearned increment"
of a piece of property reaches a staggering sum, and someone, a
Georgist or a potential one, arises to protest.
And, indeed, the "unearned increment" argument has never
been convincingly refuted. Today in our colleges and universities
professors in economic class rooms discuss the ideas of Henry George
with their students and the injustice of a land owner or his heirs
profiting enormously as a result of population pressure and other
factors is pointed out.
Typical of such discussions is an article contained in the current
issue of Unity by James G. Blauvelt, from which the following is
There was a vacant block of land in New York owned by a
subsidiary of the N. Y. Central Railroad which leased it to the
Waldorf-Astoria hotel at an annual rent, to begin with, of $300,000,
increased to $600,000 in 1932, and increased $50,000 every five
years until 1956, when the yearly rent would be $800,000, when a new
lease is to be made. Who made that value? Not the railroad, though
it contributed, as did all other activities of everybody else, fire
and police protection, great waterworks, sewers, streets, parks,
bridges, tunnels, airports, streets and highways, hospitals,
schools, colleges, churches, art, literature, commerce, the greatest
stores in the world, great newspapers and the presence of millions
of people providing activities of every kind.
Why should the railroads have what millions of people have made? The
rental of that land should go to the public treasury. The land belongs
to the people and so does the income of it.
The Astors bought the property where the Empire State building now
stands, for a few thousand dollars. They sold it to Al Smith and his
associates for $15,000,000, and William Waldorf Astor trotted off to
England with his half, seven and one-half millions, on the interest of
which he and his children, to the end of their time, can ride on the
backs of the people. Such a system is a curse. It so distributes
wealth that it is a public menace. No graft ever disclosed in public
life compares with this enormous gift to the Astors of a value all of
the people had created and morally owned.
The recovery administration is so busy with codes and crops that
never a minute has been spared to look at a picture which a good many
Americans believe is eminently unfair. Henry George's "Single Tax"
as a remedy no longer has much liberal support, but perhaps before the
present phase in our economic life is passed, a page or two may be
taken from the Georgist philosophy and modernized to fit the new deal.