Economic Policies for a Socialist Future

Norman Thomas

[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, July-August 1928]

Norman Thomas, Socialist candidate for President, has been saying things since his nomination which shows him to have a better grasp of economic principles than the Republican or Democratic nominee can boast, though we suspect that Hoover really knows more than his platform. In his column in the New Leader he writes as follows:

"Seventy-five per cent, of what President Coolidge had to say in condemnation of the McNary-Haugen bill would have come with good grace from a militant free trader. It sounds like amazing hypocrisy coming from a staunch defender of high tariffs who has just signed a bill subsidizing the American merchant marine. Yet the President is not consciously hypocritical. Subsidies and special favors to business men do not look to him like subsidies and he is not aware that he has provided sharp arguments against his own closest political friends and supporters."

And he goes on further:

"Finally it is to be observed that agriculture has been the victim not only of a faulty credit system but of inflated land values. Very earnestly do we ask you, the farmers of America, to consider whether you may not have been mistaken in thinking too much in terms of profits to be derived by sale or rent from an increase of land values and too little in terms of the reward of your own arduous labors. Mr. W. H. Kaufman of the state of Washington has recently reminded his fellow farmers that the equivalent of stock watering has been practiced on a large scale under our present system by farm owners. The unearned increment which society creates and individual owners take does not become a blessing simply because in some cases it does not go to one family like the Astors but to a multitude of smaller owners. Working farmers like city workers have need to face this problem of land values and their control by a just and equitable system of taxation which should fall on land rather than improvements.

In this connection we may find help in solving the serious problem of tenant farming which is increasing steadily. Rentals are based on swollen land values. Farm tenants in America, unlike farm tenants in other countries, have no security of tenure and no claim on the improvements these may have made save as leases may provide. Herbert Quick is authority for the statement that not the patient workers in the tobacco fields in Connecticut but land owners and land sellers have got th lion's share of such profits as have been made out of the tariff on tobacco leaf.

In short, no system of tariff or subsidy, direct or indirect, can help the men who raise our food unless we inquire into the question of land values. Here we have only space to remind you that the prosperity of all workers whether in field, factory or office depends upon the end of special privilege and the extension of a wise and sound plan for adding to the wellbeing of individuals by social control in the interest of the workers rather than of the owners."

And he says, recognizing the importance of the removal of tariff barriers in the interests of world peace between nations:

"In the long run what is desired is lower tariffs on all sorts of goods. Good will, prosperity, even peace among nations, depend, in part, upon a careful lowering of those economic barriers, which now divide them, with due regard for the workers in the period of readjustment. The relative prosperity of America has not been chiefly due to its protective system every little tiny country in Europe has that but to the fact that within our own boundaries the people of the United States have the greatest free trade market in the world."

He also says:

"None of our hesitant liberal friends have advanced one single reason for believing that the Republican or Democratic Party can be made the effective weapon of any sort of struggle for the things that most liberals profess to desire."

The Socialist Party has done itself credit in placing in nomination for the highest office a man of liberal and advanced ideas and a good deal of real economic knowledge. Single Taxers unattached to any party can do nothing better than to give him a whole-hearted support.

We who are not prepared to go the way of socialism, who are disciples of the new laissez faire, who believe in the natural law of competition, can afford to ignore these considerations for the time for the sake of the candidate's clear-cut utterances on the tariff and land question. The plank of the Socialist Party platform which reads "Appropriation by taxation of the annual value of all land held for speculation," is altogether meaningless and would prove utterly futile in practice, but it is a gesture and a recognition of the importance of our question. It may indicate the entrance of the party into a new and promising field in which it will rally to its ranks the liberal forces of the country. For almost the first time in any presidential campaign we wish well to the party and to its splendid standard bearer. For he not only feels and cares, as did Debs of revered memory, but he seems to know, and the union of knowledge and heart may mean a new era in politics.