Joseph S. Thompson
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom,
If your house were on fire and your piano needed tuning, to which
would you telephone first: The Fire Department or the piano tuner?
If a sane, intelligent ism-less means for ending our economic
distress were at hand and a host of futile panaceas were also before
you, which would you choose: Ending your evils or poulticing your
If you were laboring, struggling, striving and failing under an ism
that was certain to keep you in misery, why would you care if you were
threatened with Communism or Fascism or Bolshevism in exchange for
your present ism?
Well, your house is on fire and the remedy is at hand and you are
struggling against as miserable an ism as any that you fear, so why
don't you wake up Mr. Business Man and Mr. Professional Man and Mr.
Farmer and Mr. Working Man and Mr. Artist and Mr. Artisan and Mr.
Merchant and Mr. Inventor and all you Misters who have ideas and
products and services to sell or provide, and who do good work and who
ought to be well rewarded for it!
For the ism you labor under is Landlordism, And Landlordism is
And the remedy, so simple, so long before us, so thoroughly explained
and so clearly described (with the burdens and woes due to ignoring
it, so marvelously prophesied) is simply this:
Meet publicly created needs by publicly collecting publicly created
wealth. Leave privately created wealth in the hands of those creating
And what is publicly created wealth? And what is privately created
Publicly created wealth is the value of the land; privately created
wealth is money earned. Only the presence of the people can give value
to land. The value appears in rent that rises in proportion to the
numbers of the people. Put that rent in the public treasury. Stop
taxing homes. Stop taxing industry. Stop taxing the fruits of labor
and of genius. Stop taxing anything unless you want to destroy it. A
tax is a fine. Get your public revenue from the value you publicly
We own our United States. We Americans. We surely own our own
country. You don't own it. I don't own it. But WE do. And we prove it
by taking a part of the land rent that we create in the form of a tax.
And if the holder doesn't pay the little portion we now take he
forfeits the land. But we let landlords -- who give nothing take the
most of it and then we burden ourselves in our capacity as
industrialists and workers and capitalists, and in all other forms of
serving our fellows by taxing ourselves to make up the money they get
for letting us live in our own United States.
Yes. As capitalists. We need capitalists. Men who work and build and
save and plan are capitalists. A capitalist is a man who saves his
money and puts it to work. But if we were wise and took all the land
rental value we create no capitalist would put his savings into land.
We do not need the aid of capital to furnish land. We do need the aid
of capital to prepare it sometimes. And we need the aid of capital for
It was not Capitalism that spurred the Russians to bloody revolution.
They has little capitalism in Russia. Almost none. Try to think of
some big Russian Company. The railroads belonged to the state. What
murdered them was landlordism. The privilege of a few to tax for their
private use. The Russians happened to read Marx instead of Henry
George, and mistook Landlordism for capitalism.
But capital invested in the privilege of collecting the public
revenue is money paid for the right to hold us up. Nothing else. No
matter how time-honored the custom of permitting some of us to trade
in the right to collect land rent, a public revenue, it is different
in form only from giving the privilege of trading in black-jacks or
machine guns for the "protection" racket. In what one of its
effects on commerce and the public good does collection of land rent
differ from collection of protection? In what way? What service does
the landlord perform? What service does the racketeer perform?
Landlordism is the father of all monopolies. Why do we rage so about
public utilities that absorb three percent of our income and furnish
something for it, while we supinely agree to Landlordism which absorbs
thirty per cent and gives nothing? And regulated utilities could give
cheaper service if their equipment were freed of taxes.
Like Landlordism, taxes are a heritage of the ages of man's
ignorance. There should be no taxes. A tax is a fine. In what way do
they differ? To tax a man is to take part of his money to pay public
expenses, whether he wants to pay it or not. Yet that same man by his
presence alone has made the land rent just that much greater than it
would be if he did not exist, be he a great business executive, a
great professional man or a day laborer.
We Americans get along pretty well with private initiative. We have
rewarded many men who have put things at our disposal. We need them.
We set our individual hopes by them. A fine architect ought to get
rich. A fine doctor ought to get rich. An author who pleases. A
toolmaker. Why not?
But are we so dumb that we cannot discern the difference between
reward for service and reward for useless privilege?
Are we so damned dumb that we are going to let ourselves murder each
other into Communism or Fascism to protect our stupid practice of
pouring public revenue into hands that do nor earn it and tearing its
equivalent from private hands that do earn it?
Private enterprise deserves a reward, provided it isn't the
enterprise of the hold-up man. There should be rich people if their
riches are secured by furnishing something that people want and that
they produce out of themselves. Brains should be rewarded. Brains that
serve and create are the only thing of value in the world. The public
does not begrudge a rich reward for brains that serve, and we need not
fear brains, for men of true intellect do not prey upon their fellows.
Values created by individual thought and labor should stay in the
hands of that individual. Values created by the cooperation of groups
should remain in the hands of those groups. But values created by the
public should remain in the hands of the public!
One concrete instance: San Francisco's largest office building is the
Russ Building. Capital built the Russ Building and deserves a reward
for placing so fine a structure at the disposal of the people of San
Francisco. But that capital is having a hard time and is not getting
its reward. The capitalists who built that building pay taxes. The
tenants pay taxes. But the capitalists will lose their reward and
their capital too if they fail to continue to pay the ground rent
($120,000.00 per annum) of their ninety-nine year lease. The ground
rent to the Russ estate for the privilege of existing in San
Francisco. And what does the Russ Estate do for them with the money?
It pays a fraction of it in taxes. The balance may stay here but
probably goes elsewhere. True it may have bought the right* to levy
tribute on the build- ing, and to say to San Franciscans "Before
you step on this part of your city, pay here!" It bought a right
that is not a right. It is a privilege born of public stupidity. And
just as the purchaser of stolen goods loses them without recompense
when the owner discovers them, so should the public take back its
self-created value by levying a charge for rental against all the land
to the full extent of its yield. And take its collective hand out of
the thinker's and the worker's private pocket.
The private collection of land value or publicly created income is
wrong. The public appropriation of privately earned income is wrong.
As long as we cherish and protect something dead wrong in our
economics Kill your pregnant pigs! Dole your dole. Plough in your
wheat. Putter, Peck and Dabble, but don't expect to go ahead. The Free
Land is gone.