Single Taxers Should Support
Norman Thomas for President
Chester C. Platt
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, Vol.
XXVIII, No.5, September-October 1928]
So you advise us to vote for Norman Thomas, the Socialist candidate!
Good. "New powers bring new duties." Henry George says so in
Chapter XVII of Social Problems entitled "The Functions
of Government." Here he presents about all the arguments which
are urged by present-day socialists in support, not only of the public
ownership of railroads, the telegraphs and telephones, electric light,
heat, power and gas, but also of all those businesses that are in
their nature monopolies.
But he goes still further, and says, beyond owning those businesses
which in their nature involve monopoly, there is a field in which the
state may operate beneficially as the executive of the great
co-operative associations into which it is the tendency of true
civilization to blend society.
He also tells us in this chapter that the natural progress of social
development is unmistakably towards Socialism.
He speaks of the development of species and says, as the powers of
conscious co-ordinated action of the whole being must assume greater
and greater relative importance to the automatic action of parts, so
it is in the development of society. "This is the truth in
Socialism", he declares.
During the past summer I visited seven European countries, where I
met and discussed social affairs with representative socialists.
Nearly all recognized the fundamental doctrine of Henry George that
all mankind have an equal right to the use of the earth, and that the
way to secure that right is through the collection of economic rent,
by the state, for governmental expenses.
I believe in Henry George, but I do not believe that he was
infallible. And I think one of the greatest mistakes of his life was
when in 1887, at the State convention on the United Labor party he
parted company with the socialists, who had supported him in his
campaign for Mayor in 1886.
The hostilities then aroused have led many Georgests to always speak
slightingly of socialism, and often sarcastically of socialists, as if
they were enemies in a hostile camp instead of allies.
I hope our joining with the Socialists in support of Mr. Thomas, (as
many of us will) may bring about a friendly and co-operative feeling
towards socialists, by all land reform advocates.
I said so to a Single Tax friend and he answered "I do not like
this mixing up of socialism with the Single Tax."
Well, Henry George started it. In Progress and Poverty,
chapter I of Book VI, he says: "The ideal of socialism is grand
and noble, and it is, I am convinced, possible of realization."
And in chapter IV of Book IV he tells us that the revenue arising
from the taxation of land values would enable us to establish public
baths, museums, libraries, gardens, lecture-rooms, music and dancing
rooms, theatres, universities, technical schools, shooting galleries,
play grounds, gymnasiums, etc. Heat, light, and motive power as well
as water, might be conducted through our streets at public expense;
our roads be lined with fruit trees; discoverers and inventors
rewarded, scientific investigation supported; and in a thousand ways
the public revenue made to foster efforts for the public benefit.
"We should reach the ideal of the socialist, but
not through governmental repression. Government would change its
character, and become the administration of a great co-operative
I am aware that Mr. George said and wrote some things seemingly
contradictory of some of the things I have quoted. Walt Whitman said,
"Do I contradict myself? It is well, I contain multitudes."
Henry George too contained multitudes.
I am aware that Henry George did not believe in the wisdom of
abolishing competition. Neither do I. It is the law of life. It is one
of the main-springs of progress. It also often produces injustice and
cruelty also and so needs to be restrained and guided.
And I find that most of the socialists in this country and abroad
question the wisdom of abolishing all competition, and believe that
there should be along with the public ownership of many things a broad
field left for private initiative and private enterprise. The Russian
fiasco has taught many reformers that evolutionary progress is better
than revolutionary progress and that it is not wise to turn society
and our economic system upside down.
"Ah Love, could you and I conspire, to grasp this
sorry scheme of things entire. Would we not smash it into bits, and
then rebuild it nearer to our heart's desire?"
Thus wrote a very old-time poet. But this idea of reform is absurd.
The bit by bit method is the scientific one. Experiment is necessary
in the field of social reform. The only way to tell whether some of
our Utopian theories will work or not is to begin with small doses.
REPLY BY THE EDITOR OF LAND AND FREEDOM
Joseph Dana Miller
Mr. Platt goes us one better, and we do not follow him so far. We do
not believe that the law of competition produces injustice and cruelty
where left free to work. Under the one-sided competition that prevails
("jug-handled competition" was the happy phrase of Louis
Post) it does work injustice. But free competition has not yet been
tried. Nor do we think a natural law needs to be restrained and
And the things we can do cooperatively with the surplus of the land
rent fund remaining after governmental expenses are provided for if
there is any remainder -will be few in number.
Nor can we endorse the argument that because the Russian experiment
has failed we must therefore substitute evolutionary for revolutionary
progress. It is conceivable that the Russian experiment might have
succeeded if it had begun right. Even now it has a better opportunity
of working around right a better opportunity than we have, since
mountains in the way have been removed. The Russian experiment failed
not because it was accompanied by revolutionary methods but because
its leaders did not know. If they had known there would have been no
need at all of evolutionary processes after the overthrow of Czarism.
Power was in their hands, and therefore Mr. Platt's argument seems to
us to lack force. And this does not mean that we are disregarding the
evolutionary processes either.