Fighting for our Most Important Rights
[An edited version of a talk titled "Free
Speech? Why?" delivered on station KPFA, Berkeley, California. At
the time Mr. Tideman was Executive Secretary of the Henry George
School in San Francisco. Reprinted from the Henry George News,
The free-speech fracas on the Berkeley campus reminds me of what
Carlyle said when his friends waved a newspaper at him on a London
street and asked him what he thought of the news. "What news?"
he said. "Why the cable to India! It's finished! Isn't it
wonderful!" Carlyle growled, "What have we to say to India?"
Cables and radios and free speech are indispensable - but
insufficient. When the cable is open, when free speech is won, what
have we to say?
One of the things we have to say, I am told, is that every man has a
right to vote and a right to assemble with others. But again we can
ask with Carlyle, what does he have to vote for? And what will we all
say or do when we assemble?
Let me be understood. I do not say that the right to speak and
assemble and vote are unimportant. What I do say is that the good,
earnest people who struggle for these political rights, if they do not
acquire a better comprehension of what to do with them, will destroy
what they aim to build and in time lose the political rights
For behind political questions lie always the questions of economics,
the questions of property. Who shall own what? Who shall keep what?
Who shall take what? These are the crucial questions. Suppose half the
people in the country had all the political rights and the other half
had all the economic or property rights, and each group was bound not
to invade the other's sphere. One group would have nothing to say but
could exercise their property rights fully. The other would do all the
talking and voting and assembling - if they could find a spot of land
on which to assemble - but would avoid all questions economic. Which
group would be more powerful? Would not those who held the economic
rights exercise complete domination? For they alone could own property
- that is to say, ships and homes and land, not to mention clothing
and food, which are property too.
It would be a mistake to say that civil rights enthusiasts confine
themselves entirely to political questions. They do indeed have
various economic ideas. But their economic programs are generally
confused, superficial, and worst of all, inconsistent with the ideals
of liberty and equal rights which they proclaim so well in the field
Their economic programs-talk with them and you will see - come down
almost universally to this: the government should spend money (not the
local government, of course, but the national government).
As to how the government should get the money, that is seen as an
impertinent if not reactionary question. The assumption seems to be
that it already has the money but is spending it on the wrong things.
How does the federal government get the money it spends? Does not
five-sixths of the income tax revenue come from people who earn less
than $6000 a year? Does it not come almost entirely from the wages of
It will be said that governments are necessary to the survival of
society, and governments cannot exist without money ... but
governments have their own proper earnings. Whenever a new bridge is
built or highway laid, whenever a school is improved or a fire
department strengthened, whenever an area is better served in all the
ways that government serves it, that area becomes more desirable to
live in and work in, and the value of the land goes up. This increase
in the value of the land is due to nothing the landholder does. The
land commands a rent because of government services and general
community growth. We can get our necessary public revenue from that
socially created fund and stop what people earn. We already tax land a
little. We can readily tax it more... A survey based on a study of 716
properties, showed that if idle land and slums were assessed as the
law requires, an additional $812 million a year would be available to
local governments in California, with no increase in tax rates.
While we are fighting for civil rights, could we not mention - at
least every fourth Wednesday - that the economic rights of California
citizens are invaded by this illegal undervaluation [of land], engaged
in by all 58 assessors in the state? And it is an invasion of rights.
The undervaluation of land increases the burden of tax that men must
pay on the labor they put into their homes and other improvements. It
makes land speculation so profitable that land prices are driven up
beyond the reach of those who need it for homes and shops and farms.
It enables those who hold land to collect higher and higher rents not
for any productive contribution but just for allowing others to use
their tax-favored holdings. Most of our newly rich in California made
it not by working but by speculating in undertaxed land.
What will be the use of free speech - what the use of any civil right
- if more and more of what men earn is taken from them, more and more
taxes removed from land so that in the end we have political equality
in a society of gross economic inequality?
We who believe in civil rights and civil liberties must learn the
whole meaning of freedom lest we win our battles and lose the war.
Liberty will have no half service.