Tolstoy And George

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Victor Lebrun

Victor Lebrun was a personal friend and Secretary to Leo Tolstoy. This is a translation of his article published in the July 1956 issue of the French periodical, Contre-Courant, and reprinted in the July-September 1956 issue of the French Georgist magazine Terre et Liberte. Its historical interest, in view of the establishment of Communism in Russia in 1917, needs no emphasis.

In giving his extreme and sympathetic attention to other thinkers and writers, the great Tolstoy differed essentially from his colleagues – the geniuses of all countries and all centuries. But nothing shows the complete honesty and surprisng liberty of his spirit more than his attitude towards Henry George.

Conversion to Georgism

It was at the beginning of 1885 that he happened to lay his hands on the books of the great American sociologist. By then the moral and social doctrine of the thinker had been solidly and definitely established. Man’s supreme and unique duty was to perfect himself morally and not to co-operate with the wrong. Thus the social problem would be automatically solved when the majority has understood the true meaning of pure Christianity and when it has learned to abstain from all crimes which are frequently and commonly committed. All reasoning about the precise nature of the citizens’ rights, about laws, about the organisation of governmental compulsion for their protection is anathema to the great thinker.

But…hardly had Tolstoy had a glance at Social Problems and Progress and Poverty and he was completely captivated by George’s outstanding exposition. His strict daily routine is broken.

‘This morning I read George instead of writing’ ,Tolstoy confesses in a letter to his wife. Two days later he adds: ‘I read my George’. (He says ‘my’. He never said this of any other author). ‘This is a very important book. This is a step forward of equal importance to the liberation of our serfs. This is the liberation of the earth from private ownership.’

‘Their point of view in this matter is the control of men. And it is necessary to read George, who defined the problem with precision and definitively. After this there is no more debating, one has to take resolutely one side or the other. Personally I demand much more than he does: but his project is the first step of the ladder which I would like to climb.’

And the thinker does not hesitate any longer. From this encounter on he resolutely and enthusiastically takes George’s side, and to his last breath for a quarter of a century, he makes every effort without relaxation to make his discovery known. He publishes articles on George: he writes introductions to the remarkable translations of his works.

Letters to Stolypin

The correspondence of the Georgist Tolstoy with the Prime Minister of the time is also astonishing. Here the summits of the two camps clash, the two leading theories, those who ‘think right’ and the honest ones.

In 1907 the people were exasperated. The peasant revolt was in full swing. And the Minister made his soldiers fire at the crowds, hanged peasants almost daily, imprisoned and deported them by the thousands. The gallows had been named after him ‘Stolypin’s necktie’. Tolstoy suffered terribly from the crimes and the hatred he saw growing on both sides. Finally he lost his patience. On the 26th July, 1907, he sent word to the Prime Minister:

‘Peter Arcadievich, I write to you under the impulse of my best feelings towards the son of my friend.

‘You are on the wrong road. You have two possibilities in front of you: the one is to continue not only to take part in but direct all the deportations, forced labour, executions, and not having achieved your aim, leave behind you a sordid memory. Or, doing the opposite, advance the peoples of Europe by helping to destroy the old, enormous injustice of the appropriation of the soil. In the latter way you would truly accomplish a great and good task, and you would appease the people through the most efficient of processes by giving satisfaction to their most loyal demands.

‘This would stop these horrible crimes which are perpetrated on the side of the revolutionaries as well as on the side of the Government.

Leo Tolstoy’

It is after three months that the Minister decides to reply:

‘Leo Nicolaievich, don’t think that I have not given my attention to your letter. I couldn’t answer it because it touched me where it hurt. You consider to be wrong what I consider to be for the welfare of Russia…

‘I don’t deny the doctrine of Henry George but believe that the Single Tax could in time (sic) help in the struggle against the big estates. At present I don’t see any reason why we should, here in Russia, chase the owners from their lands, which they cultivate better than the peasants. Quite the contrary, I see the necessity of making it possible for the peasants to acquire a piece of land of their own…

‘How could I do anything else than what I consider to be right. And you write to me that I am on the road of bad repute, of cruel actions, and above all of sin. Believe me that, feeling the possibility of approaching death, one cannot avoid thinking of these questions, and my road seems straight to me. I understand that it is completely in vain that I write this letter.

‘Accept my apologies.

Yours, Stolypin.’

This is the Prime Minister’s answer. And he goes on with his countless crimes.

On the 28th January, 1908, Tolstoy loses patience:

‘Peter Arcadievich, why? Why are you losing yourself in going on with your erroneous action which can only lead to aggravation of the general situation and of your position in it? Courageous, honest and noble man, and I know you as such, should not persist with his errors, but should recognise them and direct his forces to correct their consequences…

‘Your two errors: the violent struggle against the irresistible force of the people, and the consolidation of the ownership of land can be corrected by a simple, clear and achievable reform. It has to be recognised that the territory of the country is the equal property of the entire population, and a land tax has to be established which would correspond exactly to the privilege enjoyed by each site. This rent would replace entirely all taxes.

‘Only this measure can appease the people … Only this measure can dispose of the horrible repression which those who revolt have to suffer …I repeat that I write this to you wishing you the best and loving you …

Leo Tolstoy.’

This second letter remained unanswered, but the terrible agony of the horrible regime remained.

Some time later the Prime Minister was assassinated by a revolutionary, and in 1918 the communists gained power. The hoarders of territory refused to pay the nation the economic rent. Now everything was taken from them. None escaped punishment.

It is terrifying to re-live this era, to re-read this correspondence.

The Economy of the Future

In thanking George for a present of his works, the master asks the intermediary to tell him that he is ‘ enchanted by the clarity, the mastery and conclusions of his expositions; that George was the first who had put down solid foundations for the economy of the future, and that his name would always be remembered with gratitude by mankind.’

Tolstoy wrote to his wife – at the time of George’s death: ‘Henry George is dead, it is strange to say but his death surprised me like the death of a very close friend. The newspapers announce his passing and do not even speak of his books, which are so remarkable and of such great importance.’

A fragment of Tolstoy’s introduction to Social Problems shows to what degree he appreciated his works. The great master wrote:

‘Henry George said: “To those who have never studied the subject, it will seem ridiculous to propose as the greatest and most far-reaching of all reforms a mere fiscal change. But whoever has followed the train of thought through which in preceding chapters I have endeavoured to lead, will see that in this simple proposition is involved the greatest of social revolutions – a revolution compared with which that which destroyed ancient monarchy in France, or that which destroyed chattel slavery in our Southern States were nothing”.

‘And see, this is just the enormous importance of the big and real reform proposed by George that has not been understood in the world until now.’ Tolstoy continues:

‘George’s idea which changes the way of living of the people, to the advantage of the big majority – at present downtrodden and silent, and to the detriment of the ruling minority–this idea is expressed so convincingly and effective- ly and above all so simply that it is impossible not to understand it. For this reason, there is only one way to fight against it, to falsify it and to keep silent about it. Both are practised with such pains that it is difficult to induce people to read George’s books attentively and to deepen his doctrine. In the whole world, among the majority of intellectuals the ideas of George continue to be misinterpreted, and the indifference towards them appears to grow.

‘But a precise, and consequently fertile thought, cannot be destroyed. However one tries to strangle it, it remains more alive than all the other doctrines which are vague and devoid of meaning and behind which one tries to force it. Sooner or later truth will pierce the veil by which it is hidden, and will throw light over the world.

Such is the thought of Henry George’.

Other Letters

To TM Bondaref, who had written from Siberia asking for information about the ‘Single Tax’. THIS IS Henry George’s plan:

The advantage and convenience of using land is not everywhere the same; there will always be many applicants for land that is fertile, well situated, or near a populous place; and the better and more profitable the land, the more people will wish to have it. All such land should, therefore, be valued according to its advantages: the more profitable – dearer; the less profitable – cheaper. Land for which there are few applicants should not be valued at all, but allotted gratuitously to those who wish to work it themselves.

With such a valuation of the land – here in the Toula Government, for instance – good arable land might be estimated at about 5 or 6 roubles the desyatina; kitchen-gardens in the villages, at about 10 roubles the desyatina; meadows that are fertilized by spring floods at about 16 roubles, and so on. In towns the valuation would be 100 to 500 roubles the desyatina, and in crowded parts of Moscow or Petersburg, or at the landing-places of navigable rivers, it would amount to several thousands or even tens of thousands of roubles the desyatina.

When all the land in the country has been valued in this way, Henry George proposes that a law should be made by which, after a certain date in a certain year, the land should no longer belong to any one individual, but to the whole nation – the whole people; and that everyone holding land should, therefore, pay to the nation (that is, to the whole people) the yearly value at which it has been assessed. This payment should be used to meet all public or national expenses, and should replace all other rates, taxes, or customs dues.

The result of this would be that a landed proprietor who now holds, say, 2,000 desyatina, might continue to hold them if he liked, but he would have to pay to the treasury – here in the Toula Government, for instance (as his hodling would include both meadow- land and homestead) 12,000 or 15,000 roubles a year; and, as no large landowners could stand such a pay- ment, they would all abandon their land. But it would mean that a Toula peasant, in the same district, would pay a couple of roubles per desyatina less than he pays now, and could have plenty of available land nearby, which he would take up at 5 or 6 roubles per desyatina. Besides, he would have no other rates or taxes to pay, and would be able to buy all the things he requires, foreign or Russian, free of dutv. In towns, the owners of houses and manufactories might continue to own them, but would have to pay to the public treasury the amount of the assessment on their land.

The advantages of such an arrangement would be:

1. That no one will be unable to get land for use.

2. That there will be no idle people owning land and making others work for them in return for permission to use that land.

3. That the land will be in the possession of those who use it, and not of those who do not use it

4. That as the land will be available for people who wish to work on it, they will cease to enslave themselves as hands in factories and works, or as servants in towns, and will settle in the country districts.

5. That there will be no more inspectors and collectors of taxes in mills, factories, refineries and workshops, but there will only be collectors of the tax on land which cannot be stolen, and from which a tax can be most easily collected.

6. (And chiefly) That the non-workers will he saved from the sin of exploiting other people’s labour (in doing which they are often not the guilty parties, for they have from childhood been educated in idleness, and do not know how to work), and from the yet greater sin of all kinds of shuffling and lying to justify themselves in commiting that sin; and the workers will be saved from the temptation and sin of envying, condemning and being exasperated with the non-workers, so that one cause of separation among men will be destroyed.

To a German Propagandist of Henry George’s Views.

It is with particular pleasure that I hasten to answer your letter, and say that I have known of Henry George since the appearance of his Social Problems. I read that book and was struck by the justice of his main thought – by the exceptional manner (unparalleled in scientific literature), clear, popular and forcible, in which he stated his cause – and especially by (what is also exceptional in scientific literature) the Christian spirit that permeates the whole work. After reading it I went back to his earlier Progress and Poverty, and still more deeply appreciated the importance of its author’s activity.

You ask what I think of Henry George’s activity, and of his Single Tax system. My opinion is the following:

Humanity constantly advances: on the one hand clearing its consciousness and conscience, and on the other hand rearranging its modes of life to suit this changing consciousness. Thus, at each period of the life of humanity, the double process goes on: the clearing up of conscience, and the incorporation into life of what has been made clear to conscience.

At the end of the eighteenth century and the commencement of the nineteenth, a clearing up of conscience took place in Christendom with reference to the labouring classes – who lived under various forms of slavery – and this was followed by a corresponding readjustment of the forms of social life, to suit this clearer consciousness: namely, the abolition of slavery, and the organization of free wage-labour in its place. At the present time an enlightenment of men’s consciences is going on in relation to the way land is used; and soon, it seems to me, a practical application of this new consciousness must follow.

And in this process (the enlightenment of conscience as to the utilization of land, and the practical application of that new consciousness), which is one of the chief problems of our time, the leader and organizer of the movement was and is Henry George. In this lies his immense, his pre-eminent, importance. He has helped by his excellent books, both to clear men’s minds and consciences on this question, and to place it on a practical footing.

But in relation to the abolition of the shameful right to own landed estates, something is occurring similar to what happened (within our own recollection) with reference to the abolition of serfdom. The Government and the governing classes – knowing that their position and privileges are bound up with the land question – pretend that they are preoccupied with the welfare of the people, organizing savings banks for workmen, factory inspection, income taxes, even eight-hours working days – and carefully ignore the land question, or even, aided by compliant science, which will demonstrate anything they like, declare that the expropriation of the land is useless, harmful, and impossible.

Just the same thing occurs, as occurred in connection with slavery. At the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the ninteenth centuries, men had long felt that slavery was a terrible anachronism, revolting to the human soul; but pseudo-religion and pseudo- science demonstrated that slavery was not wrong, that it was necessary, or at least that it was premature to abolish it. The same thing is now being repeated with reference to landed property. As before, pseudo- religion and pseudo-science demonstrate that there is nothing wrong in the private ownership of landed estates, and that there is no need to abolish the present system.

One would think it would be plain to every educated man of our time that an exclusive control of land by people who do not work on it, but who prevent hundreds and thousands of poor families from using it, is a thing as plainly bad and shameful as it was to own slaves; yet we see educated, refined aristocrats – English, Austrian, Prussian, and Russian – making use of this cruel and shameful right, and not only not feeling ashamed, but feeling proud of it.

Religion blesses such possessions, and the science of political economy demonstrates that the present state of things is the one that should exist for the greatest benefit of mankind.

The service rendered by Henry George is that he has not only mastered the sophistries with which religion and science try to justify private ownership of land, and simplified the question to the uttermost, so that it is impossible not to admit the wrongfulness of land-ownership – unless one simply stops one’s ears – but he was also the first to show how the question can be practically solved. He first gave a clear and direct reply to the excuses, used by the enemies of every reform, to the effect that the demands of progress are unpractical and inapplicable dreams.

Henry George’s plan destroys that excuse, by putting the question in such a form that a committee might be assembled tomorrow to discuss the project and to convert it into law. In Russia, for instance, the discussion of land purchase, or of nationalizing the land without compensation, could begin tomorrow; and the project might – after undergoing various vicissitudes – be carried into operation, as occurred thirty-three years ago* with the project for the emancipation of the serfs.

The need of altering the present system has been explained, and the possibility of the change has been shown (there may be alterations and amendments of the Single Tax system, but its fundamental idea is practicable); and, therefore, it will be impossible for people not to do what their reason demands. It is only necessary that this thought should become public opinion; and in order that it may become public opinion it must be spread abroad and explained – Which is just what you are doing, and is a work with which I sympathize with my whole soul, and in which I wish you success. [1897.]

* The Emancipation of the Serfs in Russla was decreed in 1861, and was accomplished during the following few years.

Tolstoy, Leo, Essays and Letters, Oxford University Press, 1911,

Chapter XV1 Letters on Henry George, pp 213 – 238

Upton Sinclair & Dan Sullivan’s Review

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The Consequences of Land Speculation are Tenantry and Debt on the Farms, and Slums and Luxury in the Cities

by Upton Sinclair

I know of a woman–I have never had the pleasure of making her acquaintance, because she lives in a lunatic asylum, which does not happen to be on my visiting list. This woman has been mentally incompetent from birth. She is well taken care of, because her father left her when he died the income of a large farm on the outskirts of a city. The city has since grown and the land is now worth, at conservative estimate, about twenty million dollars. It is covered with office buildings, and the greater part of the income, which cannot be spent by the woman, is piling up at compound interest. The woman enjoys good health, so she may be worth a hundred million dollars before she dies.

I choose this case because it is one about which there can be no disputing; this woman has never been able to do anything to earn that twenty million dollars. And if a visitor from Mars should come down to study the situation, which would he think was most insane, the unfortunate woman, or the society which compels thousands of people to wear themselves to death in order to pay her the income of twenty million dollars?

The fact that this woman is insane makes it easy to see that she is not entitled to the “unearned increment” of the land she owns. But how about all the other people who have bought up and are holding for speculation the most desirable land? The value of this land increases, not because of anything these owners do–not because of any useful service they render to the community–but purely because the community as a whole is crowding into that neighborhood and must have use of the land.

The speculator who bought this land thinks that he deserves the increase, because he guessed the fact that the city was going to grow that way. But it seems clear enough that his skill in guessing which way the community was going to grow, however useful that skill may be to himself, is not in any way useful to the community. The man may have planted trees, or built roads, and put in sidewalks and sewers; all that is useful work, and for that he should be paid. But should he be paid for guessing what the rest of us were going to need?

Before you answer, consider the consequences of this guessing game. The consequences of land speculation are tenantry and debt on the farms, and slums and luxury in the cities. A great part of the necessary land is held out of use, and so the value of all land continually increases, until the poor man can no longer own a home. The value of farm land also increases; so year by year more independent farmers are dispossessed, because they cannot pay interest on their mortgages. So the land becomes a place of serfdom, that land described by the poet, “where wealth accumulates and men decay.” The great cities fill up with festering slums, and a small class of idle parasites are provided with enormous fortunes, which they do not have to earn, and which they cannot intelligently spend.

This condition wrecked every empire in the history of mankind, and it is wrecking modern civilization. One of the first to perceive this was Henry George, and he worked out the program known as the Single Tax. Let society as a whole take the full rental value of land, so that no one would any longer be able to hold land out of use. So the value of land would decrease, and everyone could have land, and the community would have a great income to be spent for social ends.

A few years ago, out here in Southern California, a fine enthusiast by the name of Luke North started what he called the “Great Adventure” movement, to carry California for the Single Tax. I did what I could to help, and in the course of the campaign discovered what I believe is the weakness of the Single Tax movement. Our opponents, the great rich bankers and land speculators of California, persuaded the poor man that we were going to put all taxes on this poor man’s lot, and to let the rich man’s stocks and bonds, his inheritance, his wife’s jewels, and all his income, escape taxation. The poor man swallowed this argument, and the “Great Adventure” did not carry California.

So, I no longer advocate the Single Tax. I advocate many taxes. I want to tax the rich man’s stocks and bonds, also his income, and his inheritances, and his wife’s jewels. In addition, I advocate a land tax, but one graduated like the income tax. If a man or a corporation owns a great deal of land, I want to tax him on the full rental value. If he owns only one little lot, I don’t want to tax him at all. Some day that measure will come before the voters of California, and then I should like to see the bankers and land speculators of the state persuade the poor man that the measure would not be to the poor man’s advantage!

…I have before me a little book entitled “Enclaves of Economic Rent,” by C. W. Huntington….This book is published by Mr. Fiske Warren, a millionaire paper manufacturer who lives at Harvard, Massachusetts, and believes in the Single Tax by way of enclaves….I sought to persuade Mr. Warren that a great crisis was impending; that the inequality of wealth in our society a thing continually growing worse, was bound to bring a smash-up long before mankind had been persuaded to live in enclaves. To this Mr. Warren answered, in substance: “You may be right; but if this civilization collapses, something else will have to be put in its place, and it may be useful to men to have a model of a better community.”

…How are these enclaves run? The principle is very simple. The community owns the land, and fixes the site value year by year, and those who occupy the land pay the full rental value of the land they occupy. Improvements of any kind are not taxed; you pay only for the use of what nature and the community have created. The community takes all this wealth and uses it, first to pay all the taxes on the land [and buildings -ds] the remaining money being expended for community purposes, by the democratic vote of all.

What this means in practice you can see from the town of Fairhope, Alabama. Fairhope began nearly thirty years ago, with three hundred and fifty acres, and now has nearly four thousand acres. Its land is estimated to be worth a million dollars. But instead of this wealth being distributed among private owners, in accordance with the guessing power or each individual, the whole rental value is the property of the community, and the whole community prospers by the labors of each one.

What this means in the way of moral values you may judge from one sentence in the little book: and I will follow the example of the book and quote this sentence in the same cold and unemotional fashion: “No resident of Fairhope has been defendent in a criminal case in county court.” Perhaps I should add that there is no place except the county court where anyone could be a defendent; there has never been a court or jail or anything of that sort in Fairhope.

Or take the colony of Arden, Delaware, which is just south of Philadelphia. I could not say that no resident of Arden has ever been a defendent in a court–I myself having been one of eleven men who were arrested by a constable from the city of Wilmington, and sent to prison for the crime of playing baseball and tennis on Sunday! It is that kind of humourous story which you read about Arden, and not the seriousefforts which are there being made to solve a great and pressing social problem.

In Philadelphia, as in all our great cities, are enormously wealthy families, living on hereditary incomes derived from crowded slums. Here and there among these rich men is one who realizes that he has not earned what he is consuming, and that it has not brought him happiness, and is bringing still less to his children. Such men are casting about for ways to invest their money without breeding idleness and parasitism. Some of them might be grateful to learn about this enclave plan, and to visit the lovely village of Arden, and see what its people are doing to make possible a peaceful and joyous life, even in this land of bootleggers and jazz orchestras.

The above essay by Upton Sinclair is from p3, Enclaves of Economic Rent, C. W. Huntington (ed), Fiske Warren, Harvard Massachusetts, 1924

Dan Sullivan

What I find particularly interesting is a passage that, to me, shows how class envy was used to shift us from the highly principled Georgist message to the “us-them” Marxist message. Here is the passage to which I refer:

“A few years ago, out here in Southern California, a fine enthusiast by the name of Luke North started what he called the “Great Adventure” movement, to carry California for the Single Tax. I did what I could to help, and in the course of the campaign discovered what I believe is the weakness of the Single Tax movement. Our opponents, the great rich bankers and land speculators of California, persuaded the poor man that we were going to put all taxes on this poor man’s lot, and to let the rich man’s stocks and bonds, his inheritance, his wife’s jewels, and all his income, escape taxation. The poor man swallowed this argument, and the “Great Adventure” did not carry California.

“So, I no longer advocate the Single Tax. I advocate many taxes. I want to tax the rich man’s stocks and bonds, also his income, and his inheritances, and his wife’s jewels. In addition, I advocate a land tax, but one graduated like the income tax. If a man or a corporation owns a great deal of land, I want to tax him on the full rental value. If he owns only one little lot, I don’t want to tax him at all. Some day that measure will come before the voters of California, and then I should like to see the bankers and land speculators of the state persuade the poor man that the measure would not be to the poor man’s advantage!”

Of course, what happened when lefties like Upton Sinclair sold out to the expedient of class envy, was that the privileged classes strategically caved on these other taxes, so that now we do tax the rich man’s stocks and bonds (and also the poor man’s retirement funds) and his inheritances (if he is not rich enough to hold them overseas) and his wife’s jewels (which merely causes unemployment among jewelers). And since these various unprincipled measures have been disastrous, people are now suspicious of any tax that falls on the rich, including the one proper tax, for which Mr. Sinclair, had he not been impatient for cheap victories, would have held out.

It is often asserted that Henry George paved the way for the Progressive Movement, which in turn paved the way for the Socialist Movement. This passage, to me, is the *essential* description of how our own “allies” derailed us.

Thus I regard as critically important, the following passage from paragraph 18 of Tom Paine’s “Agrarian Justice”:

“While, therefore, I advocate the right, and interest myself in the hard case of all those who have been thrown out of their natural inheritance by the introduction of the system of landed property, I equally defend the right of the possessor to the part which is his.”

We must oppose those who would make public property private, but we must equally oppose those who would make private property public. In my opinion, Georgism was undone, not by its enemies, but by its shallower allies who were more enamored of victory than of principle.

The rest of the Upton Sinclair article is wonderful, but this passage is especially wonderful in its own perverse way, because it is a window into exactly where the movement went astray.

Dan Sullivan

Cobden and Rogers

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Richard Cobden

“Cheated, Robbed and Bamboozled”

“I warn ministers, and I warn landlords and the aristocracy of this country, against forcing on the attention of the middle and industrial classes, the subject of taxation ….. If you were to bring forward the history of taxation in this country for the last 150 years, you will find as black a record against the landowners as even in the Corn Law itself.

I warn them against ripping up the subject of taxation. If they want another league at the death of this one – if they want another organisation and a motive – then let them force the middle and industrial classes to understand how they have been cheated, robbed and bamboozled …..

For a period of 150 years after the conquest, the whole of the revenue of the country was derived from the land. During the next 150 years it yielded nineteen-twentieths of the revenue. For the next century down to the reign of Richard III it was nine-tenths. During the next 70 years to the time of Mary it fell to about three-fourths. From this time to the end of the Commonwealth, land appeared to have yielded one-half the revenue. Down to the reign of Anne it was one-fourth. In the reign of George III it was one-sixth. For the first thirty years of his reign the land yielded one-seventh of the revenue. From 1793 to 1816 (during the period of the land tax), land contributed one ninth. From which time to the present one twenty-fifth only of the revenue of the revenue had been derived directly from land.

Thus, the land, which anciently paid the whole of taxation, paid now only a fraction, or one twenty-fifth, notwithstanding the immense increase that had taken place in the value of the rentals. The people had fared better under despotic monarchs than when the powers of the state had fallen into the hands of a landed oligarchy who had first exempted themselves from taxation, and next claimed compensation for themselves by a corn law for their heavy and peculiar burdens.”

Richard Cobden: Parliamentary Corn Law debates [1845]

Professor Thorold Rogers

“I have stated more than once that the fifteenth century and the first quarter of the sixteenth were the golden age of the English labourer, if we are to interpret the wages which he earned by the cost of the necessaries of life. At no time were wages, relatively speaking, so high, and at no time was food so cheap. Attempts were constantly made to reduce these wages by Act of Parliament, the legislature frequently insisting that the Statute of Labourers should be kept. But these efforts were futile; the rate keeps steadily high, and finally becomes customary, and was recognised by parliament. It is possible, that as the distribution of land for terms of years became habitual, the phenomenon of which has often been noted of peasant proprietorship, a high rate of wages paid to the free labourer, may have been exhibited in the period on which I am commenting.”

James E Thorold Rogers: Six Centuries of Work and Wages: The History of English Labour, T Fisher Unwin, London 1912, Eleventh Edition, p.326

How To Abolish Unfair Taxation

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by Clarence Darrow, Attorney, Philosopher

Clarence Darrow of Chicago became known and respected the world round as a courageous and intelligent foe of special privilege and monopoly.

His social and economic philosophy rested on the same basic principles as those of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.
Everybody nowadays is anxious to help do something for the poor, especially they who are on the backs of the poor; they will do anything that is not fundamental. Nobody ever dreams of giving the poor a chance to help themselves. The reformers in this state have passed a law prohibiting women from working more than eight hours in one day in certain industries – so much do women love to work that they must be stopped by law. If any benevolent heathen see fit to come here and do work, we send them to gaol or send them back where they came from.

All these prohibitory laws are froth. You can only cure effects by curing the cause. Every sin and every wrong that exists in the world is the product of law, and you cannot cure it without curing the cause. Lawyers, as a class, are very stupid. What would you think of a doctor, who, finding a case of malaria, instead of draining the swamp, would send the patient to gaol, and leave the swamp where it is? We are seeking to improve conditions of life by improving symptoms.

Land Basic

No man created the earth, but to a large extent all take from the earth a portion of it and mould it into useful things for the use of man. Without land man cannot live; without access to it man cannot labour. First of all, he must have the earth, and this he cannot have access to until the single tax is applied. It has been proven by the history of the human race that the single tax does work, and that it will work as its advocates claim. For instance, man turned from Europe, filled with a population of the poor, and discovered the great continent of America. Here, when he could not get profitable employment, he went on the free land and worked for himself, and in those early days there were no problems of poverty, no wonderfully rich and no extremely poor – because there was cheap land. Men could go to work for themselves, and thus take the surplus off the labour market. There were no beggars in the early days. It was only when the landlord got in his work – when the earth monopoly was complete – that the great mass of men had to look to a boss for a job.

All the remedial laws on earth can scarcely help the poor when the earth is monopolized. Men must live from the earth, they must till the soil, dig the coal and iron and cut down the forest. Wise men know it, and cunning men know it, and so a few have reached out their hands and grasped the earth; and they say, “These mines of coal and iron, which it took nature ages and ages to store, belong to me; and no man can touch them until he sees fit to pay the tribute I demand”.

Pirates Demand Tribute

Nature prepared the earth for ages to make a mine of iron ore, which is so useful in civilized life. It was here before man came, and will be here after he is gone, and yet a plundering, soulless, conscienceless band of pirates, called the steel trust, have taken possession of all the iron in America, and they say to every man who will use it: “You must pay us tribute.” And every time two dollars is paid for their product one dollar goes to labour, and one dollar is taken as plunder pure and simple, because of the foolish laws of man. They can take from the farmer and labourer all that they earn except enough to keep them alive still to toil for the monopolist.

You may make eight-hour laws, you may make laws regulating sweat shops and factories, but so long as a few rich men own the earth, there will be a few rich and many millions of helpless poor. As population becomes more dense, the proportion of poor will increase.


The labouring man takes no account of fundamentals. Millions of working men have organized themselves into great unions to protect themselves, to force up their side to counteract the forcing up bv the other side. These millions have organized for a most impossible purpose. They seek to change the social life in an impossible way. Their higher wages will be handed back to monopoly in higher prices. If a small fraction of the energy and money that has been given by the working men to support labour unions had been spent to change fundamental conditions, there would be no need of a labour union in the world today. Everywhere about us we can see that the conditions cannot change while land monopoly continues.

Most of our laws were made by the dead, and the dead have no right to legislate for the living. The present generation has no right to bind its legislation upon the generation still unborn. When one generation is dead, it ought to stay dead and not reach out its dead hand to bind the living. We have no right to fix terms and conditions for those yet unborn; it is for each generation to fix the rules and regulations for itself. The earth should be owned by all men, the coal mines should belong to the people who live here, so they can take what they want while they live, as when they are dead they won’t need coal – they will be warm enough without it – and they should not have the power to say who shall have it when they are gone. Carnegie and Morgan cannot use or withhold it much longer, as they will soon be gone – that is one consolation.

Eminent Domain

Fundamentally, all law recognizes the right to eminent domain, to take the portion of any human being for the welfare of the public – that no man’s claim to any portion of the earth shall stand in the way of the common good. This is a common law, but in practice it only applies where a rich railroad wants to get the land of some poor widow.

Everybody who works is poor; nobody would work if they were not poor, and nobody can get rich working. I never tried it, but I have seen others try it. The land boomer comes along and gets good car service to this poor man’s home, and then charges him ten dollars per month instead of five. A lot of reformers are trying to get parks laid out in the slums, which only make the poor move, for they cannot pay the increased rent. The greater the population, the less the worker gets. As the land becomes valuable, more and more goes to rent. The bigger the city, the deeper the poverty; the bigger the city the more degradation, there are the almshouses and gaols filled to overflowing. It is better for the men who own the earth to have big cities – but for no one else. Every man, woman, and child adds to the wealth of the land owner; the others must secure land upon which to live, and they must bid with each other for the right to live.

Surplus to the Monopolist

Beyond a living all surplus goes to the monopolist, and it does go to him. You talk about a city of a million in 1915 – who would be benefited? Not the workingman; he would be far worse off than at present, for the greater the city the greater the poverty.

Taxes on goods are added to the price of goods and passed on to the consumer. There is only one kind of tax that is not a curse, and that is the land tax. If you tax a pair of shoes a dollar, the manufacturer will add that to the price of the shoes, and thus diminish the number of shoes the people can buy. The higher you tax the land the more land is thrown on the market and the easier it is to secure, and it is the only thing that increases by taxation.

The higher the tax on land the more it comes into use, and so “single tax” is a positive blessing. It is the only tax that does not come out of labour, it comes out of the monopolist; it stays right there, and that fact compels them to put the land to some use, and that employs labour.

Natural Fund

The single tax theory is that the public should take all the value of land, as it was made by the public. Land value goes up because of population, and not because of the owner of the title deed, and the value should be taken by the community, and thus create a natural fund from which to make improvements for the comfort of all, and thus make life easier. It would abolish poverty, that crime of the century, which has always come with civilization; inequality of wealth, which comes as the world grows older, and which we have never been able to cure, because man wants to hold what he cannot use, and pass on to future generations what they will not use.

The personal property tax always was a delusion, a humbug, and a snare; it never could be administered justly. The conscientious man, the widow and the orphans (whose fund is in trust) pay in full while the rich get off. It is unscientific, it is bad as a fiscal measure. What we are after is the earth, and it can be had in an easy, simple, direct way.

Every right-of-way of every railroad should be owned by the people; all public franchises, every mine and every forest, all should belong to the community itself. Then we would not need the repressive laws we have today.

Men love peace, and if not antagonized, they will behave, and until justice is done in that good time to come, all the gaols on earth cannot make them behave. It never did, and it never will.

The “single tax” is so simple, so fundamental, and so easy to carry into effect that I have no doubt it will be about the last reform the world will ever get. People in this world are not often logical; in fact, there is never any considerable number of them that are logical. I am pretty sure the people will never get started in the right direction; they will go a long way around.

Winston Churchill on Site Rating

Casey JenkinsEndorsements, HistoryLeave a Comment


Winston Churchill’s Speech in the House of Commons, 4 May 1909, in response to Mr AJ Balfour, Leader of the Opposition

The immemorial custom of nearly every modern State, the mature conclusions of many of the greatest thinkers, have placed the tenure, transfer, and obligations of land in a wholly different category from other classes of property. The mere obvious physical distinction between land, which is a vital necessity of every human being and which at the same time is strictly limited in extent, and other property is in itself sufficient to justify a clear differentiation in its treatment, and in the view taken by the State of the conditions which should govern the tenure of land from that which should regulate traffic in other forms of property.
Unearned Increment

When the Leader of the Opposition seeks by comparisons to show that the same reasoning which has been applied to land ought also in logic and by every argument of symmetry to be applied to the unearned increment derived from other processes which are at work in our modern civilisation, he only shows by each example he takes how different are the conditions which attach to the possession of land and speculation in the value of land from those which attach to other forms of business speculation.

“If,” he inquires, “you tax the unearned increment on land, why don’t you tax the unearned increment from a large block of stock? I buy a piece of land; the value rises. I buy stocks; their value rises.” But the operations are entirely dissimilar. In the first speculation the unearned increment derived from land arises from a wholly sterile process, from the mere withholding of a commodity which is needed by the community. In the second case, the investor in a block of shares does not withhold from the community what the community needs. The one operation is in restraint of trade and in conflict with the general interest, and the other is part of a natural and healthy process, by which the economic plant of the world is nourished and from year to year successfully and notably increased.

Landowner and Railway Co.

Then the right hon. gentleman instanced the case of a new railway and a country district enriched by that railway. The railway, he explained, is built to open up a new district; and the farmers and landowners in that district are endowed with unearned increment in consequence of the building of the railway. But if after a while their business aptitude and industry create a large carrying trade, then the railway, he contends, gets its unearned increment in its turn.

But the right hon. gentleman cannot call the increment unearned which the railway acquires through the regular service of carrying goods, rendering a service on each occasion in proportion to the tonnage of goods it carries, making a profit by an active extension of the scale of its useful business – he cannot surely compare that process with the process of getting rich merely by sitting still? It is clear that the analogy is not true.

The Glasgow Example

I do not think the Leader of the Opposition could have chosen a more unfortunate example than Glasgow. He said that the demand of that great community for land was for not more than forty acres a year. Is that the only demand of the people of Glasgow for land? Does that really represent the complete economic and natural demand for the amount of land a population of that size requires to live on? I will admit that at present prices it may be all that they can afford to purchase in the course of a year. But there are one hundred and twenty thousand persons in Glasgow who are living in one-room tenements; and we are told that the utmost land those people can absorb economically and naturally is forty acres a year.

What is the explanation? Because the population is congested in the city the price of land is high upon the suburbs, and because the price of land is high upon the suburbs the population must remain congested within the city. That is the position which we are complacently assured is in accordance with the principles which have hitherto dominated civilised society.

The “Poor Widow” Bogey

But when we seek to rectify this system, to break down this unnatural and vicious circle, to interrupt this sequence of unsatisfactory reactions, what happens? We are not confronted with any great argument on behalf of the owner. Something else is put forward, and it is always put forward in these cases to shield the actual landowner or the actual capitalist from the logic of the argument or from the force of a Parliamentary movement.

Sometimes it is the widow. But that personality has been used to exhaustion. It would be sweating in the cruellest sense of the word, overtime of the grossest description, to bring the widow out again so soon. She must have a rest for a bit; so instead of the widow we have the market-gardener – the market-gardener liable to be disturbed on the outskirts of great cities, if the population of those cities expands, if the area which they require for their health and daily life should become larger than it is at present.

What is the position disclosed by the argument? On the one hand, we have one hundred and twenty thousand persons in Glasgow occupying one-room tenements; on the other, the land of Scotland. Between the two stands the market-gardener, and we are solemnly invited, for the sake of the market-gardener, to keep that great population congested within limits that are unnatural and restricted to an annual supply of land which can bear no relation whatever to their physical, social, and economic needs – and all for the sake of the market-gardener, who can perfectly well move farther out as the city spreads and who would not really be in the least injured.


From a Speech Delivered at King’s Theatre in Edinburgh on 17 July 1909

It is quite true that land monopoly is not the only monopoly which exists, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies – it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly. It is quite true that unearned increments in land are not the only form of unearned or undeserved profit which individuals are able to secure; but it is the principal form of unearned increment which is derived from processes which are not merely not beneficial, but which are positively detrimental to the general public.

Land, which is a necessity of human existence, which is the original source of all wealth, which is strictly limited in extent, which is fixed in geographical position. Land, I say, differs from all other forms of property in these primary and fundamental conditions.

Nothing is more amusing than to watch the efforts of our monopolist opponents to prove that other forms of property and increment are exactly the same and are similar hl all respects to the unearned increment in land.

Misleading and False Analogies

They talk to us of the increased profits of a doctor or a lawyer from the growth of population in the towns in which they live. They talk to us of the profits of a railway through a greater degree of wealth and activity in the districts through which it runs. They tell us of the profits which are derived from a rise in stocks and shares, and even of those which are sometimes derived from the sale of pictures and works of art, and they ask us – as if it were the only complaint: “Ought not all these other forms to be taxed, too?”

But see how misleading and false all these analogies are. The windfalls which people with artistic gifts are able from time to time to derive from the sale of a picture – from a Vandyke or a Holbein – may here and there be very considerable. But pictures do not get in anybody’s way. They do not lay a toll on anybody’s labour; they do not touch enterprise and production at any point; they do not affect any of those creative processes upon which the material well-being of millions depends.

Rewards for Service

If a rise in stocks and shares confers profits on the fortunate holders far beyond what they expected or indeed deserved, nevertheless that profit has not been reaped by withholding from the community the land which it needs, but, on the contrary, apart from mere gambling, it has been reaped by supplying industry with the capital without which it could not be carried on.

If the railway makes greater profits, it is usually because it carries more goods and more passengers. If a doctor or a lawyer enjoys a better practice, it is because the doctor attends more patients and more exacting patients, and because the lawyer pleads more suits in the courts and more important suits. At every stage the doctor or the lawyer is giving service in return for his fees, and if the service is too poor or the fees are too high other doctors and other lawyers can come freely into competition. There is constant service, there is constant competition; there is no monopoly, there is no injury to the public interest, there is no impediment to the general progress.

Fancy comparing these healthy processes with the enrichment which comes to the landlord who happens to own a plot of land on the outskirts or at the centre of one of our great cities, who watches the busy population around him making the city larger, richer, more convenient, more famous every day, and all the while sits still and does nothing.

Enrichment Without Service

Roads are made, streets are made, railway services are improved, electric light turns night into day, electric trams glide swiftly to and fro, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains – and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of other people. Many of the most important are effected at the cost of the municipality and of the ratepayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare; he contributes nothing even to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.

If the land were occupied by shops or by dwellings, the municipality at least would secure the rates upon them in aid of the general fund, but the land may be unoccupied, undeveloped, it may be what is called “ripening” – ripening at the expense of the whole city, of the whole country for the unearned increment of its owner. Roads perhaps have to be diverted to avoid this forbidden area. The merchant going to his office, the artisan going to his work, have to make a detour or pay a tram fare to avoid it. The citizens are losing their chance of developing the land, the city is losing its rates, the State is losing its taxes which would have accrued if the natural development had taken place, and that share has to be replaced at the expense of the other ratepayers and taxpayers; and the nation as a whole is losing in the competition of the world – the hard and growing competition of the world – both in time and money.

And all the while the land monopolist has only to sit still and watch complacently his property multiplying in value, sometimes manifold, without either effort or contribution on his part. And that is justice!

Monopoly is the Keynote

But let us follow the process a little further. The population of the city grows, and grows still larger year by year, the congestion in the poorer quarters becomes acute, rents and rates rises hand in hand, and thousands of families are crowded into one-roomed tenements. There are 120,000 persons living in one-roomed tenements in Glasgow alone at the present time. At last the land becomes ripe for sale -that means that the price is too tempting to be resisted any longer. And then, and not till then, it is sold by the yard or by the inch at 10 times, or 20 times, or even 50 times its agricultural value, on which alone hitherto it has been rated for the public service.

The greater the population around the land, the greater the injury which they have sustained by its protracted denial, the more inconvenience which has been caused to everybody, the more serious the loss in economic strength and activity, the larger will be the profit of the landlord when the sale is finally accomplished. In fact, you may say that the unearned increment on the land is on all fours with the profit gathered by one of those American speculators who engineer a corner in corn, or meat, or cotton, or some other vital commodity, and that the unearned increment in land is reaped by the land monopolist in exact proportion, not to the service, but to the disservice done. It is monopoly which is the keynote, and where monopoly prevails the greater the injury to society the greater the reward to the monopolist will be.

Land Monopoly Hampers Industry

See how this evil process strikes at every form of industrial activity. The municipality, wishing for broader streets, better houses, more healthy, decent, scientifically planned towns, is made to pay, and is made to pay in exact proportion, or to a very great extent in proportion, as it has exerted itself in the past to make improvements. The more it has improved the town the more it has increased the land value, and the more it will have to pay for any land it may wish to acquire.

The manufacturer proposing to start a new industry, proposing to erect a great factory offering employment to thousands of hands, is made to pay such a price for his land that the purchase price hangs round the neck of his whole business, hampering his competitive power in every market, clogging him far more than any foreign tariff in his export competition, and the land values strike down through the profits of the manufacturer on to the wages of the workman. The railway company wishing to build a new line finds that the price of land which yesterday was only rated at its agricultural value has risen to a prohibitive figure the moment it was known that the new line was projected, and either the railway is not built, or, if it is, is built only on terms which largely transfer to the landowner the profits which are due to the shareholders and the advantages which should have accrued to the travelling public.

It does not matter where you look or what examples you select, you will see that every form of enterprise, every step in material progress, is only undertaken after the land monopolist has skimmed the cream off for himself. and everywhere today the man or the public body that wishes to put land to its highest use is forced to pay a preliminary fine in land values to the man who is putting it to an in- ferior use, and in some cases to no use at all. All comes back to the land value, and its owner for the time being is able to levy his toll upon all other forms of wealth and upon every form of industry.

The Error of Public Tollways

A portion, in some cases the whole, of every benefit which is laboriously acquired by the community is represented in the land value, and finds its way automatically into the landlord’s pocket. If there is a rise in wages, rents are able to move forward, because the workers can afford to pay a little more. If the opening of a new railway or a new tramway, or the institution of an improved service of workmen’s trains, or a lowering of fares, or a new invention, or any other public convenience affords a benefit to the workers in any particular district, it becomes easier for them to live, and therefore the landlord and the ground landlord, one on top of the other, are able to charge them more for the privilege of living there.

Some years ago in London there was a toll-bar on a bridge across the Thames, and all the working people who lived on the south side of the river had to pay a daily toll of one penny for going and returning from their work. The spectacle of these poor people thus mulcted of so large a proportion of their earnings appealed to the public conscience; an agitation was set on foot, municipal authorities were roused, and at the cost of the ratepayers the bridge was freed and the toll removed. All those people who used the bridge were saved 6d. a week. Within a very short period from that time the rents on the south side of the river were found to have advanced by about 6d. a week, or the amount of the toll which had been remitted.

Neutralising Philanthropy

And a friend of mine was telling me the other day that, in the parish of Southwark, about 350 pounds a year, roughly speaking, was given away in doles of bread by charitable people in connection with one of the churches, and, as a consequence of this, the competition for small houses, but more particularly for single-roomed tenements, is, we are told, so great that rents are considerably higher than in the neighbouring district.

All goes back to the land, and the landowner, who, in many cases, in most cases, is a worthy person utterly unconscious of the character of the methods by which he is enriched, is enabled with resistless strength to absorb to himself a share of almost every public and every private benefit however important or however pitiful those benefits may be.

Let Us Alter the Law

I hope you will understand that, when I speak of the land monopolist, I am dealing more with the process than with the individual landowner. I have no wish to hold any class up to public disapprobation. I do not think that the man who makes money by unearned increment in land is morally a worse man than anyone else who gathers his profit where he finds it in this hard world under the law and according to common usage. It is not the individual I attack, it is the system. It is not the man who is bad, it is the law which is bad. It is not the man who is blameworthy for doing what the law allows and what other men do, it is the State which would be blameworthy were it not to endeavour to reform the law and correct the practice. We do not want to punish the landlord. We want to alter the law.

Take the case to which I have already referred, of the man who keeps a large plot in or near a growing town idle for years, while it is “ripening” – that is to say, while it is rising in price through the exertions of the surrounding community and the need of that community for more room to live. Take that case. I daresay you have formed your own opinion upon it. Mr. Balfour, Lord Lansdowne, and the Conservative Party generally, think that that is an admirable arrangement. They speak of the profits of the land monopolist, as if they were the fruits of thrift and industry and a pleasing example for the poorer classes to imitate.

The Dog in the Manger

We do not take that view of the process. We think it is a dog-in-the-manger game. We see the evil, we see the imposture upon the public, and we see the consequences in crowded slums, in hampered commerce, in distorted or restricted development, and in congested centres of population, and we say here and now to the land monopolist who is holding up his land – and the pity is it was not said before – you shall judge for yourselves whether it is a fair offer or not-we say to the land monopolist – “This property of yours might be put to immediate use with general advantage. It is at this minute saleable in the market at 10 times the value at which it is rated. If you choose to keep it idle in the expectation of still further unearned increment then at least you shall be taxed at the true selling value in the meanwhile.”

Free Trade – Free Land!

Every nation in the world has its own way of doing things, its own successes and its own failures. All over Europe we see systems of land tenure which economically socially, and politically are far superior to ours; but the benefits that those countries derive from their improved land systems are largely swept away, or at any rate neutralised, by grinding tariffs on the necessaries of life and the materials of manufacture.

In this country we have long enjoyed the blessings of Free Trade and of untaxed bread and meat, but against these inestimable benefits we have the evils of an unreformed and vicious land system. ln no great country in the new world or the old have the working people yet secured the double advantage of Free Trade and Free Land together, by which I mean a commercial system and a land system from which, so far as possible, all forms of monopoly have been rigorously excluded.

An Hour of Tremendous Opportunity

Sixty years ago our system of national taxation was effectively reformed, and immense and undisputed advantages accrued therefrom to all classes, the richest as well as the poorest. The system of local taxation to-day is just as vicious and wasteful, just as great an impediment to enterprise and progress, just as harsh a burden upon the poor, as the thousand taxes and Corn Law sliding scales of the “hungry forties.”

We are met in an hour of tremendous opportunity.

“You who shall liberate the land,” said Mr. Cobden, “will do more for your country than we have done in the the liberation of its commerce.”