Our Equal Right to a Share of the Land


[The following essay was included as an appendix to the pamphlet, Tolstoy On Land And Slavery, published in 1909 by the Land Values Publication Department, London. The essay was titled "The Odd Man," published in The Open Road, March 1909]

"Livings" (food, clothing and shelter) come from man's labour applied to land (natural resources), so that it is obvious there can be no equal opportunity apart from equal opportunity to use land -- whether for agriculture, manufacture or exchange. In order that this should be not merely in name, but in fact, it is necessary that men should have the right to use the land freely, without State interference or control; free to reap the reward of their labour whether it be more or less, according to their strength and intelligence.

There is only one way in which men's opportunities to earn a living may be equalised and at the same time their freedom preserved. It is by the restitution of land values to the people and the abolition of all rates and taxes. It is a misnomer to call this a single tax. A man is not taxed who yields value for something which belongs to everybody. He is a robber if he refuses to pay. It is due from him.

It is a right of every man that he should have a share of the land. It is robbery if he appropriates that increase in land values arising out of the presence of many people, the superiority of one situation over another, the superiority of one kind of soil over another, or the existence of useful minerals underneath. The natural law of association demands the pooling of these differences and their appropriation for common needs. This is not taxation, it is equalisation. Taxation is imposture, therefore "single tax" is a wrong term. It should be called the single due.

The acceptance of this principle and the restitution of this right would result in, among other things, the following: --

  1. The lowering of the prices of all products of labour.
  2. The abolition of landlords.
  3. Employment for everybody.
  4. The raising of wages.
  5. The abolition of large and idle capitalists.
  6. The abolition of usury and spurious interest.

The practicability of this is very simple. The difficulty in the way is men's ignorance, which is the root cause of their misery.

It is the presence of a vast collection of people in our "great city" that causes land round about the Bank of England to be valued at millions of pounds, while the same quantity in an Essex district, only forty minutes' train journey away, is valued at 25 pounds per acre. Thus every city presents the paradox of men paying excessive rents for land which their presence makes valuable.

It is the exorbitant rents -- unearned increments -- that should be paid to the community instead of to individuals. It may very easily be seen that the enormous revenues thus obtainable would suffice for all public uses and communal needs, thus making the imposture of rates and taxes wholly unnecessary. The inevitable result of this would be decrease of prices on the one hand and, on the other, increase of purchasing power.

Landlordism, which is the holding of land for extortion and not for use, would become abolished, because landlords would have to hand over the whole of the unearned increment they were receiving from their tenants to the community. Seeing also that it would no longer pay to either allow land to remain idle or even neglect to use it to the best possible advantage, there would be created an enormous demand for labour of all kinds which would result, as the originator of the single tax idea shows, in the phenomenon of employers competing with one another for labour instead of as at present men competing for employment.

The outcome of this would be that the income of employees would be very little less than that of employers. …The large capitalist class would inevitably disappear, because an individual cannot become possessed of capital that he does not earn, that is, capital to any large extent, except by appropriating unearned increment or by obtaining a monopoly of some commodity or trade.

Monopoly, which is the power of pricing an article regardless of its value, would be impossible under the single tax (due) except by special legislation prohibiting people with free access to the land to set up competitive industries.

But what about interest -- usury? the Socialist will ask. Usury will cease to exist. Interest may or may not remain according as the community find it convenient or not.

Interest in the real sense of the word is to-day confounded with --

  1. Profits of monopoly.
  2. Profits filched from wages -- i.e., dividends.
  3. Usury.
  4. Spurious interest.

Interest is that particular increase, says Henry George, "which, though it generally requires labour to utilise it, is yet distinct and separable from labour -- the active power of nature." It is true that all capital is not increased by the forces of nature, but, on the other hand, seeing that in every community the members use both species, that is, capital which the forces of nature do and do not increase, a pooling of benefits is 'found to be the advantage of all, and thus interest strikes an average.

In F. E. Worland's articles entitled, "The Earth for All," which it is hoped will appear in book form before the end of the year, the justice of interest is illustrated by two typical cases.

A calf borrowed from one man by another, in order to improve the value of his field by eating the long grass and manuring the land, would return at the end of six months a cow, not a calf. A man who borrowed a plough from another in order to save the trouble and time of making or the expense of buying one would in fairness have to return not only a new plough or make good the depreciation, but share with the lender the advantages of a superior crop owing to a week's earlier sowing.

Usury is money paid for the use of capital over and above its real increase, and could only be extorted from people who have already been deprived of their free access to natural resources.

Spurious interest is that paid on capital which has long ceased to exist, a good example of which is the case of incomes derived from government bonds, representing capital long since blown away out of the mouths of cannons. The money received by the holders of such bonds is not interest but the proceeds of taxation.

The single-due system is one which is applicable to all states of society -- to a society which suffers an armed government to enforce payment, or one in which there is sufficient common sense to realise in what direction the best interests of men lie. It is a system which would not allow millionaires on the one hand nor paupers on the other. It would combine all the advantages promised by socialism with the freedom we are supposed to, but do not, get under so-called individualism.

True it is that in a society from which an armed government extorts taxes there would be much more difficulty in establishing such a system, than in one where common sense prevails. Probably, the disappearance of violence would be in proportion to the advance of such a system. …The single tax (due) is certainly not easily to be wrung from a Parliament which is based upon landlordism and "vested interests." It can only be established by the force of public opinion. And is not public opinion that which our legislators tell us to appeal to in order to bring about any reform? Then why not concentrate on that work? Let the people beware of sophistical arguments about getting other things first. Getting other things first means the expenditure of the same energy as getting the right thing. Thus, in addition to wasted energy, the people saddle themselves with heavier burdens in the form of increased rents, rates and taxes, which are piled up as their labour increases and these "other things" are procured. They had better 'by far do without the benefits and concentrate on this radical reform.

The cry of the small investor is usually brought in to re-enforce the arguments against the single tax. It is said that under a system of Land Nationalisation he would be compensated, but that, by the single-tax system his property would be confiscated. Which, of course, is ridiculous. The small investor who has purchased land for use would be benefited, not injured by the system. He would pay less in land value due then than he does now in rates and taxes. It is the, large investor, who has purchased for profit - extortion -- and not for use, who would be affected. And no real injury would be inflicted on him, since he would be given the opportunity of becoming a human being and not a parasite; he would be deprived of the power to live idly upon tile backs of others. It is astonishing how quick politicians are to talk of injury when it is a question of depriving land holders and monopolists of their immoral privileges. But what about the injury that these privileges are inflicting upon the millions of men, whose miseries have been the subject of a three years' inquiry by a royal commission which can only advocate selling them piecemeal, through the channels of semi-private "charity," or right out to the State?

To effect any real reform there is need for a "new philosophic fulcrum" -- a new social principle-a new motive of action -- capable of sustaining all social activities. We are afflicted in mind, body and estate; we are living in the midst of great disturbances -- religious unrest, social misery and political bankruptcy. The failure of false theories and treacherous practices confound us. We are already moving out into a new life, but with doubt and uncertainty, notwithstanding that many are rallying round a new standard, symbolising a new social order based upon liberty and fraternity.

There is a great need for a centric philosophy -- one which recognises that all real reforms begin at the centre and not upon the circumference of human life.