Gaston Haxo's "The Free Land League"

John T. Tetley

[Reprinted from The Gargoyle, August-September 1976]

At the Annual Conference sponsored by the Henry George Foundation of America in Chicago lat July, Gaston Haxo presented a paper, "Reforming the Georgist Movement" in which he set forth the following, quoting from Progress & Poverty how equal rights to land may be asserted. But a question of method remains. How shall we do it? We should satisfy the law of justice, by at one stroke abolishing all private titles, declaring all land public property."

Quote from Haxo: "This plan is the one that Henry George should have advocated, but he did not … Quote from Progress & Poverty. "But such a plan, though perfectly feasible does not seem to me the best, or rather I propose to accomplish the same thing in a simpler, easier, and quieter way. I do not propose to confiscate private property in land. Let the individuals who now hold it still retain possession of what they are pleased to call their land. …We may safely leave them the shell if we take the kernel. We already take some rent in taxation. We have only to make some charges in our modes of taxation to take it all. What I, therefore, propose, as the simple, yet sovereign remedy ... is to appropriate rent by taxation."

Haxo feels this method, "by taxation" is responsible for the failure of the land reform advocated by Henry George. Haxo stated this to be the reason that Georgist movement has become a mere tax reform. He points out that "the main purpose of collecting the rent of land was not to provide public revenue, it was to give equal opportunity to labor. To tax the rent of land into the Public Treasury would defeat this purpose.

Herein, as I see it, there is great opportunity for serious thought by the leaders, as well as others, in the present Georgist movement.

The points set forth by Haxo, "The equalization of economic opportunities requires compensation from those having land advantages above the average to those with advantages below the average. This can be accomplished automatically by collecting the rent into a common fund to be distributed in equal shares, in cash, to all the people. In as much as this rent fund could not possibly be distributed in equal shares in the form of public services. I would favor the creation of an independent body, elected by the people and accountable to them, for the administration of their common heritage.

All citizens having thus been given equal rights in the land and an equal share of the rent, it becomes their duty to pay a direct tax to their government for the services rendered to them. On the other hand, all taxation now levied on improvements; business; goods and services, which increases prices and the cost of living, should be abolished. In this way we can achieve a just land tenure system and a just tax system to give the people equal rights and opportunities."

Haxo proposes, and has organized to promote his views, The Free Land League, a Constitutional amendment to declare all land in the United States the common heritage of all its citizens ... the rental value to be collected yearly and distributed in equal shares to all U.S. citizens living in this country.

Some may say this is a distinction without a difference. Mot so. There is a difference. Haxo is saying, as did George, we need a change, a reform in our Land Tenure system. To bring about equality of opportunity. The difference between natural resources and man-made things must be recognized. Once this is recognized then the need for treating land in a manner different from that presently in effect will pave the way for a truly private-market economy and a limited government with a monetary system to serve rather than hinder the operation of the economy.

Where should our efforts be directed? Toward Land Reform or Tax Reform? If the thought is that by bringing about Land Reform through Tax Reform, then of course the direction of effort will be in that direction.

On the other hand, if the Land Reform we envision is brought about, a tax reform would be almost automatic. Perhaps" and most likely our efforts will continue along both lines. The people in the Georgist movement are extremely individualistic for the most part -- some of them will not be at all interested in working in one direction. Likewise, some not in the other. Both education and political action will be required in each field.

Much must, can and should be done with adults. Perhaps, much thought ought be given to ways and means of getting basic economic principles, advantages of limited government, a just public revenue system, a system of purchasing media and credit to promote the economy, in the public schools and colleges, so the young people will understand truth.

It seems to me it is not enough to endeavor to get people to read and study Progress & Poverty; it is not enough to endeavor to teach basic economics; to advocate removing taxes from improvements and placing them on the land.

It seems we ought to decide which of the two "divisions" we will join with and devote our efforts toward bringing about a change in the Land Tenure system AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!