Review of the Book
The Land Question
by Henry George
London Municipal Society
[A Monograph on The Land Question, published
with the title, "The Fallacy of Henry George with Regard to the
Growth of Rent" -- for Members of Parliament, published by the
Economic Department of the London Municipal Society, Westminster,
S.W., March 1911]
THE LAND QUESTION
Exposure of Socialist and Radical-Socialist Fallacies
It is notorious that the doctrines of Henry George, even amongst
those who would modify his more extreme proposals, are largely
responsible for the attacks made on landed property to-day. In order
to meet these attacks it is in the highest degree desirable that the
precise nature of his proposals, and of the foundation on which they
rest, should be realised.
Let them once be clearly realised, and any public speaker can dispose
of them by an appeal, which everybody will understand, not to abstract
argument, but to hard and ascertainable fact.
The precise practical proposal of Henry George and his followers,
such as Mr. Ure and others.
George proposed to abolish every social evil by taxing^ land up to
its full rental value, and abolishing taxes of all other kinds
whatever. The rent of houses, he said, should remain absolutely
secure, this being an instance of what he described as the legitimate
"earnings of capital." He proposed that the State should
touch only the rent of "land" as such; but of this it should
appropriate the whole, and appropriate it without compensation.
Apart from the naive crudity of his suggestion with regard to
confiscation (a suggestion which Radicals, at all events, profess to
repudiate), there is nothing in George's scheme intrinsically or
theoretically impracticable. There is nothing even original in it. All
land rent, in George's sense of the word, goes, [siud] from time
immemorial has gone, to the State in China, and the only theoretical
difficulty which George's scheme suggests is not whether it would be
practicable, but how, if it were put in practice, poverty would be
cured or alleviated by it.
The Fundamental Proposition as to fact, on which ail George's
practical reasoning rests.
George provides an answer to this question by the following:
proposition as to fact: and it is a proposition on which practically
his entire argument hinges. In every progressive country (had he been
confronted with the case of China, he would probably have retorted
that China was not progressive) - in every progressive country - that
is to say, in every country in which wealth is continually increasing
- the rent of land not only increases absolutely, but increases in a
ratio greater than income from all other sources, so that every year
it must necessarily swallow up more and more of the "wages of
labour" and more and more of "the earnings o£ capital,"
until at last the whole income of the nation is absorbed by it, except
such a minimum as is required to keep the bulk of the population
How it is that his proposals rest on the foregoing proposition.
If this doctrine is true, even in a modified form, the practical
proposal of George becomes logical and intelligible enough. In
proportion as any nation increases alike in wealth and numbers, the
cost of the public service constantly increases also, and if only the
State should make itself the sole ground landlord, and appropriate the
whole of what George understood by "rent," it would
automatically be possessed of a fund which would increase even faster
than the demands made on it, without the necessity for imposing any
further tribute on anybody. On the other hand, if rent does not
increase in the manner here supposed - if it does not tend to form an
increasing portion of the income of any progressive nation - still
more if it tends to form a proportion which is constantly dwindling,
the whole of the promised advantages are obviously a mere delusion.
The great practical question -- Is the foregoing proposition true, or
is it a fantastic fiction?
The practical question, then, is this - Does his fundamental
generalisation with regard to the increase of rent correspond with
fact -- in especial does it correspond with fact in our own country?
Or is it merely an unconsidered and fantastic fiction -- in vulgar
phrase, a colossal mare's nest?
The precise evidence as to this point is ample and unambiguous, and,
from whatever point we approach it, it shatters the whole position of
George's and the "land taxers" to pieces.
The Capital Value of Land in England and Wales from 1781 to 1896
The following records appeared in the Times in 1889 and 1897, of the
average amount per acre obtained at all the auction sales in London of
estates of over 30 acres:
||Price per acre
Let us now compare these figures with the national income, omitting
the first period, with regard to which our information is inadequate.
The income of Great Britain we know with approximate accuracy to have
been in the year 1800 about £170,000,000. The data as to Ireland
are deficient, as was specially remarked by Pitt, but, even if we
assume that Ireland was no less opulent than Great Britain, the income
of the United Kingdom would not have been in the year 1800 more than £230,000,000.
In the year 1880 it was estimated by all parties at about, or rather
more than, £1,200,000,000. In the year 1896 it was estimated at
If we take the period 1801-80, the capital value of land rose
continuously, apart from one period of depression, from about £36
to about £51 per acre - that is to say, in a ratio of about 41
per cent. The national income during the same period increased in a
ratio of more than 420 per cent.
If, instead of increasing - as, according to George, it always does
and must do, faster than the national income as a whole- rent had only
kept pace with Income of other kinds, the capital value of land in
1880 would not have been less than £170 an acre. As a matter of
fact it was less than £52.
If we follow history farther, the result is still more remarkable,
George, having promulgated his doctrine as to the growth of rent in
America, visited this country just after 1880, where he asserted it
with even greater confidence. At the very moment, when he asserted
that the value of land was increasing here and must increase here
relatively to all other kinds of income, it had already begun to
decrease, not only relatively but absolutely. If, since the year 1800,
its increase, instead of exceeding, had merely kept pace with that of
income from other sources, the average value of an acre in 1906 would
have been appreciably in excess of £220. The actual value was
less than £27.
George himself, however, did not deal with capital values. His direct
assertions related to annual values or rent. Let us now consider his
doctrine as expressed in terms of rent.
The rent of land at various periods, as compared with income
derived from other sources
The records of rent in this country are given in the Income Tax
Returns for an extended period, the period during which the national
income as a whole has made the most rapid advances. During this
period, according to the doctrine of George (which dominates the ideas
of Mr. Ure and other land-taxers of to-day), the increase of rent
relatively to income of other kinds, ought to have been most
remarkable. The income Tax Returns deal with other kinds of income
also. Accordingly, between these and rent it is possible to make a
series of substantially definite comparisons.
How the total amount of "land-rent" is deduced from the
Income Tax Returns
Rent in the Income Tax Returns is given under two headings: -- (1)
Agricultural rent. (2) The rent of houses and of the sites on which
the houses stand, combined.
The kind of rent which, according to George, increased in a greater
ratio than income of any other origin, consisted of agricultural rent
plus the rent of sites, but minus the rent of buildings, or the
interest on the capital embodied in them. In testing his doctrine,
therefore, the rent of buildings must be deducted from the total, so
that the rent of agricultural land and sites may alone remain.
The ratio of site-rent to gross house-rent, which varies from an
average of one-third of the latter in London to a negligible fraction
in the case of rural cottages, can be shown for the country as a whole
to average about one-fifth. The "rent" of the kingdom,
therefore, in George's sense of the word, for any given year, will be
about one-fifth of the assessed rent of houses and sites combined,
plus the whole of the agricultural rent.
The Rent of Land and Houses combined, as compared with other
In accordance with these observations complete sets of figures for
recent years shall be given presently, but first, in order to give the
doctrine of George the in maximum of plausibility with which any of
his disciples could invest it, we will include in "rent" the
rent of houses as well as sites; we will confine ourselves to England
and Wales - the part of the country in which wealth has increased to
the greatest amount; and also to the period during which the increase
has been most rapid; and side by side with the gross rent of land and
houses we will set the gross income derived from professions and
businesses as reviewed for purposes of income tax.
A Preliminary Comparison: England and Wales
Rent of Lands and Income from Professions
Thus we see that whilst the rent of the country, that of structures
included, increased by 95 per cent., the wages of professional work
and the "earnings of capital" (as George called business
incomes) increased not in a lesser ratio, but in one nearly five times
The rent of Land alone, as compared with income from other
Let us now go more into detail, and consider "rent" in the
strict and actual sense - namely, land-rent apart from building rent -
in which it was understood by George, and in which Radical "land-taxers,"
as distinct from Socialisis, profess to understand it to-day, and we
will compare the manner in which such rent has increased, as compared
with the increase of the total incomes from professions, businesses
and employments, reviewed for purposes of assessment by the
Commissioners of Inland Revenue.
The figures on which the following table is based will be found in
the Statistical Abstracts, Cd. 306 and Cd. 5296. Site-rent, as
distinct from building rent, is given as one-fifth of the total for
sites and huildings for each of the years dealt with - namely, £122,452,000
for 1885, and £210,396,000 for 1906. In order to get the total
land-rent, this fifth is added to the rent of agricultural land.
Land-Rent of the United Kingdom compared with incomes from
Professions and Businesses (Schedule D), and Salaries of Empioyees
[table not reproduced]
In whichever way we turn and twist the matter, we need only consult
the definite official records, and we shall see, if we compare
land-rent with incomes of other kinds, that land rent constitutes a
constantly diminishing', not an increasing, proportion of the national
And yet it is this proportionately diminishing part of the national
income that the land-taxers select as the special and inexhaustible
gold-mine out of which they propose to support a constantly increasing
Note - (a) These figures represent the gross amounts "reviewed
for purpose of income tax," and include a large amount of small
incomes, exempt or partially exempt. If the net amounts, on which
income tax was actually paid, are taken, the result is even more
remarkable; for, though the net "income, other than rent,
increased only by 57 per cent, instead of SQ per cent., the net total
for land and buildings combined not only did not increase at all but
declined by 12 per cent.
The Policy of Socialists, such as Mr. Sidney Webb, as distinct
from the Policy of Henry George, Mr. Ure, and Mr. Lloyd George
As has been observed already, the Radical land-taxers (prominent
amongst whom is Mr. Lloyd George) propose, as Henry George did, to
attack the rent of land only, but Socialists such as Mr. Sidney Webb
would treat in the same way the rent of houses also. "The ideal
rate," says Mr. Webb, on the annual value of sites and buildings
together, would be "20s. in the pound."
To this proposal one practical answer will be sufficient.
In the year 1908 the total of land-rent and building-rent which went
to persons whose incomes from all sources did not exceed £160
amounted to no less than £34,700,000 gross, or about £30,000,000
net. This is very nearly equal to the total yield of the income tax.
Thus the immediate result of Socialist finance would be to impose a
tribute almost equal to the total yield of the income tax on a class
not one of whose members had more than £160 a year.