The Critics of Henry George Criticized:
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom,
This will bring to a conclusion the long series of articles begun two
years ago in an attempt to rebut all arguments directed against the
In this final article the objections which appeared most often are
summarized, arranged, in as few groups as practicable and answered
It is hoped that this series has been of value to those Georgeists
who have seriously been seeking refutations of the criticisms with
which they have been confronted. In any case, it should serve its
purpose, which is to acquaint the followers of Henry George with the
objections used against him.
The following are the summarized objections:
- It is impossible to separate the value of land from the
value of improvements. Therefore, a tax on land values
will penalize certain improvements.
- Taxing land values would destroy the value of land, so that the
owner would not have any incentive to own land of produce upon it.
- All value is a social product.
(a) There is no reason for the division between personal and real
property since both were created by God.
(b) Labor exerted on land requires compensation in the form of
the finished product, which includes land.
- The Single Tax would confiscate land which the owners have
purchased in good faith, thereby acquiring "indefeasible
- Speculators are entitled to their profits.
(a) Since the land speculator stands the loss without
compensation, he should be entitled to the profits.
(b) Speculators do the actual work in anticipating the trend of
- A single tax is undesirable since there are monopolies which
would not be taxed.
- The Single Tax would result in lower rents and greater
improvements, which would cause employers to slash wages.
- The unearned increment is distributed widely among a majority.
The Single Tax would, therefore, penalize too many.
- It has been tried in France, and failed.
- Capital and not land is the real exploiter of
- There would actually be no improvement of any kind under the
Single Tax because the owner, instead of paying the purchase price
of the land would merely be paying an equivalent sum in land-value
- There is no such thing as "natural rights" of society
- Land rent has constituted less than 10% of the yearly income of
our country for the last fifty years. Therefore, even if all the
land rent were collected by society, it would, hardly suffice to
defray the expense of the community. My summarized refutations
(a) Admitting that it is impossible invariably to separate the value
of land from the value of improvements, is this necessity of
continuing to tax some improvements any reason why we should continue
to tax all improvements?
(b) As a matter of fact, the value of land can always be readily
distinguished from the value of improvements. In many of the States
the value of the land and the value of the improvements are habitually
estimated separately by the assessors, though afterward reunited under
(a) In a rent-collecting state, tenure will never be disturbed, as
long as rent is paid.
(b) Lease tenants, and in many cases tenants without leases, have
worked improvements upon the land. Far from being discouraged from
cultivating the land under the Single Tax, the tenant will fee
encouraged to improve the land, knowing of a certainty that the result
of his increased efforts will truly belong to him.
(c) It has been found that the owner of the soil, rather than being
stimulated to put the land to its best use, more often keeps his land
untilled and uncultivated, because of the speculative gains he
anticipates without the necessity of any toil on his part. Under
common ownership of land, he will be forced to use the land or forego
it from the consequent inability to pay rent.
(a) All value may be a social product, but that is not the factor
which differentiates between laud and the products of labor. It is
title. As man belongs to himself, so does the result of his work
belong to him.
Nature as such, or land as we call her in political economy, cannot
be owned or possessed. Any one can obtain the products of land, the
only price being labor.
Irrespective of how value arises, if man had original tide to a
product, he is entitled to its full or subsequent value. Since man has
no rightful individual title to tend, no matter how high the value may
soar, he can partake of no part thereof.
(b) George indeed claims that man is entitled to what he produces --
that is, to the form that he brings forth from natural materials. But
outside the scope of man's products lies land, which is part of the
universe. Land is the reservoir, the "substratum," from
which he takes the materials to form wealth, which is legitimate
property. But for all his labor he cannot lay claim to the uniformed
substance of the universe itself. The act of discovering a piece of
land has been considered a performance of labor that confers
ownership. It is interesting that this "labor" argument
should be applied, when in the preceding objection the distinction
between land and the products of labor is ridiculed.
(a) Taxing land values is not a confiscation of land since the title
would still rest in the landowners' hands. They would be able to keep
their land upon payment of the tax.
(b) The fact that the owners paid the purchase price for £he
land is no justification for the ownership itself. Land is not created
by any man, and cannot, therefore, be owned by any man.
We need not feel too concerned over those who purchased something
which cannot belong to any one man -- yet not so unconcerned as to
allow the injustice to remain. Under George's system, the purchaser's
loss of investment will be more than offset by the new advantages and
opportunities that will arise.
Let us not fail to observe that the institution of private ownership
of land can be traced to conquest and fraud; and that the great bulk
of present-day landholdings was obtained not by purchase, but by
inheritance and shady dealings.
(a) The fact that the speculator could lose is no more justification
for his gain than the fact that a robber's risk of being captured by
the police justifies his looting.
(b) The speculator actually does not do any work since his "labor"
consists of withholding what the people could obtain for themselves.
In fact, by keeping the land out of use, he deprives the laborer of
access to it.
The fact that other monopolies exist is no reason for us to ignore
the land monopoly. A prisoner at the bar of justice could with scant
logic plead leniency because other prisoners had escaped. As a matter
of fact, land monopoly is the basis for all others. If that were
destroyed, the rest would fall as a consequence.
An increase in the improvements would not lower wages, but on the
contrary, raise them. The employers as well as the employees would
benefit, and even looking at It from the critic's point of view, we
may, with equal validity say that the workers would then demand higher
wages because of the higher profits of their employers. However, wages
do not come from capital.
Wages would rise for the following reasons: (a) Vanishing of land
speculation would throw the land open to use, thus raising the margin
of production, thus raising wages; (b) abolition of taxation of the
products of human labor would mean that much more to be distributed as
wages; (c) the increased opportunities would result in a greater
division of labor, and increased production, which in turn would lead
to higher wages. Is it not clear that if employers were to pay
employees less than the wages which they could obtain for themselves
at the margin, it would pay them to go to work for themselves? With
opportunities free, that is what they would do unless they were
satisfied with their salaries.
(a) The fact that too many people receive the benefit of the
increment would be no answer, any more than the fact that too many
thieves would lose if justice were enacted.
(c) In fact, a tiny percentage of the world's population owns the
land. The rest are merely tenants, who have to pay for the privilege
of living on God's earth.
The Single Tax was never tried in France. Its adoption was
proposed by the Physiocrats, but was never adopted. In
passing, it may be pointed out that the impot unique of the
Physiocrats in many respects differs from George's Single Tax.
What is commonly mistaken for the earnings of "capital" are
in reality the "earnings" of monopoly. Thus, public
utilities, tariff- and patent-protected industries, and huge landed
estates are all erroneously covered under the term "capital."
The only times capital actually does make these vast fortunes is when
it is backed by the private ownership of land. In such cases, rent is
the hidden factor,
facile primus, and not to be belittled.
Capital as we mean it is that part of wealth which is devoted to the
production of more wealth. It is a partner to labor and not its
employer. Capital adds to the sum total of wealth and is therefore
entitled to its remuneration.
We must not forget that the purchaser today pays not only the
purchase price, but numerous taxes and charities as well. Under the
Single Tax, he would pay but his rent, which would be in lieu of all
other assessments. It is dear, then, that he would realize a clear
gain resulting from the elimination of the multitude of personal
property taxes that exist today.
Whether or not we subscribe to the doctrine of natural rights, the
fact remains that the basic evil of society can be met only with the
Actually, each man born to this earth, in order to survive, must
depend upon land for his subsistence. Unless the critic wishes to
support the dangerous assumption that man has no "natural right"
to life, he cannot consistently deny the right of all men to the use
of the earth.
Our esteemed fellow Georgeist, Lancaster M. Greene, points out that
the estimated land value of the United States is between
$150,000,000,000 and $300,000,000,000. Rent, at the accepted figure of
5% of the above totals, would then be between $7,500,000,000 and
The total expenditure for the fiscal year 1938-1939 was between
$12,000,000,000 and $14,000,000,000. This, of course, includes the
numerous bureaus, war and tax agencies, charities and other
organizations created by the government m its attempt to alleviate
poverty. One can see that the rent would be adequate to cover even
this tremendous spending.
The fear that a rapidly growing community might not derive sufficient
revenue from the single tax is easily assuaged by the fact that as a
community grows with it. Rent itself is an indicator of the rise of a
people's needs. The greater the needs, the greater becomes the demand
for land -- and the greater becomes the value of such land. Thus rent
is always a measuring rod of the people's fluctuating demands.