Rent Is the Fund for Paying a Citizens Dividend

Joseph Thompson

[An excerpt ("The Government Would Pay Me!" reprinted from an
undated pamphlet, Simple Talks on Taxation, published by the author]

You're always talking about government and taxation, and I'm a kind of ignoramus but I was thinking you could tell me whether we need any government at all.
Oh, sure, we need a government to do a lot of things that you and me - you and I couldn't do by ourselves, and we're lucky our government is, at least, supposed to be one of laws, not rulers. So we write laws and then hire employees to administer them. And that's the Government.
If we hire them, how do we pay them?
Out of public funds.
What are public funds?
Public funds are money that is taken from us.
Who takes it?
Our employees. The government.
Well, they write our tax laws that authorize them to take part of your income and your purchases and part of - Well, nearly everything else.
Under their laws, how much of a part can they take?
There's no limit.
No limit!
No limit. They limit themselves a little, but so far, no ceiling has been set. They take a little from some of us and a lot from others.
Oh. I see. Depends on what the government does for you?
Hell no! Some of us pay a lot and get nothing.
I suppose then, that there's some scientific basis for the amount taken.
There isn't.
Well, what is it based on?
Apathy, habit, ignorance, opinion, greed and intrigue.
Doesn't sound like a very good basis.
It's a rotten basis. That's why we have the curses of miserable poverty and excessive wealth, side by side.
Well, I've been around long enough to admire a lot of things like mathematics, engineering and medicine, and one feller explained to me that they've been achieved by scientific methods. Why don't the government use scientific methods to get its income?
Largely because Apathy, Habit and Ignorance leave the way clear for Opinion, Greed and Intrigue.
You said that that's why you have poverty and excessive wealth. Is everybody satisfied with that?
I should say not. A lot of us are working to change things.
Well, you were just referring to scientific methods. We're applying them.
Yes, I mentioned them but I don't know just what they are.
Scientific methods mean gathering all available facts, deducing conclusions from them and adopting such a system as they indicate.
You say a lot of you are working and using the scientific method to change the present system. What does the method indicate?
They indicate that there are two fundamental facts that our present authorities ignore.
What facts are they?
One is that there are only two sources of income. One, the bounties of nature and Two, the creativeness and efforts of men, a part of which is not consumed and forms capital. Or, to put it shorter: Land and Labor.
Two sources of income? Well, the government takes part of both of them, you say. What's wrong with that?
It's your "both of them" that's wrong.
Because of fundamental fact number two, which is that they are diametrically opposite.
How are they opposite?
One belongs to all of us. The other belongs to each of us.
That sounds clever but what does it mean?
It means that die bounties of nature belong to all of us and that what each of us earns belongs to each one of us who earns it.
And what are the bounties of nature?
The land, the air, minerals and forests.
How do you mean: They belong to us?
Well, you say you're an ignoramus, but who would you say they belonged to?
Why, to - let me see, - to - wait a minute, to -
Why of course! To die people they belong to now!
Let's see, now. Let's talk about the land. Why does the land belong to the people it belongs to now?
I s'pose because they bought it or inherited it or homesteaded it or something.
When you say "bought it" you mean that they bought the title to it. Huh?
Well that's the way you get possession of land isn't it?
Sure. You don't really buy the land, you buy the title that gives you the right to sole occupancy of a certain area.
What's wrong with that?
What's wrong is that the man you bought the title from had nothing to do with supplying it or giving it the value you paid him for.
Who did give it the value?
All of us, but we, the people that give it the value, don't get any part of what we create. The man that sold you the title walks off with the payment for a value we created and you start in collecting the income that we will continue to create.
Why do you say that we create it?
Would the land have any value and would you pay him for it if there were no people there?
No. I s'pose not.
Then the fact that we are here is what makes the value, and the more people, the more value.
But isn't that true of everything?
What's the difference?
The difference is as big as the difference between the Equator and the Poles.
Because the presence of us people is the sole and the single and the solitary and the only thing that gives value to the land, while human individual effort, plus the presence of the people, gives value to everything else.
What you're saying is that all the people make the land value, so they all ought to get it Huh?
How could they? You can't split the land up among all the people!
No. But you can split the value up.
By making the land rent and the bounties of nature be the public revenue.
I don't see that'd be any better than now.
You don't! Now look. You need some land. So you pay someone a good price for it, or you pay him rent, don't you?
And the government collects income and sales and personal property and all the other taxes from you?
I'll say they do!
All right. Suppose the rent you paid for the land was the only thing the government collected from you and all the taxes and annoyances we listed a minute ago were abolished, wouldn't that be better than now when you pay the government income to some individual and your own income to the government?
Yeh. But I'll bet the government would just add all that rent they'd get to all the taxes we have now.
They probably would try, and if we were stupid enough to let them, and I'll freely admit that insofar as taxes are concerned, we are that stupid now, that's just what they'd do, but if we were smart enough to collect what is ours, collectively, we'd likely be smart enough to say "Hands off!" of what rightfully belonged to each one of us.
That's all very well, but what about the land owner?
Yes. What about him?
Why if the government took all the rent, there'd be no profit in owning land! 'You'd be nationalizing the land!
It's nationalized now.
"You're crazy!
Well, a fellow can own a piece of land now. It isn't nationalized.
What do you mean, "if?
There's a hell of a big "if" there.
I don't get you.
"If" he pays his taxes on the land. "If" he pays his taxes on the improvements."If " he pays his taxes on his personal property - You finish the list. And don't forget his income tax.
All right then. You say he pays the taxes on the land, and on nothing else.
No. I say he pays the full rental value of the land, and nothing else.
If all the rental was taken by the government, what'd be the use of owning land?
You could live on it. You could build a factory on it. You could grow an orchard on it. You could leave it to your heirs. In short: You could use it.
But suppose you wanted to buy it for an investment?
It'd be a damn poor investment, because the only value of land is the rental value and if the government took it all there'd be nothing left as a return on your investment. So no one would see any good in paying you anything.
Then who would buy it?
Nobody'd buy it.
Well! I like that! You invest in a piece of land. You hold it for an increase in the value. The government takes all the value out of it You get no profit You might even lose your investment!
That's for sure. There'd be no point in holding land unless you were using it.
But you'd kill the business of buying land for speculation!
That's for sure, too. And so much the better. We ought to kill it Say, did it ever occur to you that the only difference between a land speculator and a stick-up robber is that one is legal and the other is not?
No. It didn't occur to me because it isn't so!
It isn't eh? What does the speculator do, but say "I know that someone will need this land, so I've bought it up so that when he needs it, I can get in his way and say 'pay me to get out of your way'." What else does he do for you? And I ask you, how is that different from a stick-up?
A stick-up is a crime! Land speculation's no crime.
That's what I've just said. That's the only difference.
You mean to say, then, that I couldn't leave a piece of land for my wife to own and collect the rent off a lessee?
Nope. Not the land rent Of course if there were improvements on the land she wouldn't have to pay any taxes on the improvements and she'd get an income, or she could sell the improvements and the buyer would take over the payment of the land rental.
What you're saying then, is "Goodbye to making any money out of land and land speculation" huh?
What I'm saying is "Goodbye to private collection of public money and public confiscation of private money."
Gee! There'd be an awful howl of obstruction and objection!
Plenty. For sure. But Samuel Johnson once said "Nothing will ever be accomplished if all possible objection must first be overcome." And one of these days, if this country was run as competently as most of our big companies, it'd be paying us dividends out of our natural common wealth.
Gee! I hope I live to see that day! Wait a minute! Hold on! YOU MEAN THE GOVERNMENT WOULD PAY ME !