Future of the Georgist Movement

Sanford J. Benjamin

[A response to W.R.B. Willcox. Reprinted
from Land and Freedom, January-February 1941]

Mr. W.R.B. Willcox's article, "A Challenge to Pessimism," I gather, was partially intended as a refutation of my article, "The Price of Freedom." It is not. It is but an example of the confused thinking one falls into when a distinction between "landowners" on the one hand and the "power to collect economic rent" on the other hand is attempted. Actually, the two terms are identical, because whoever collects the economic rent is the landowner, whether it be the community or an individual. Thus Georgeists are a body of land reformers, are a minority fighting landlordism.

The gist of Mr. Willcox's argument, however, is to be found in the following statements, after each of which I append my answer:

"Why do Georgeists antagonize, or want to fight landlords? Will there not of necessity always be landlords to administer the land to which they hold titles?"

If Mr. Willcox means by "fighting" the landlords, the teaching of the philosophy of Henry George, then the answer is self-evident. If he means physical force, my answer is this: I have no objection to that course provided the people want to take it because the landlords block peaceful reform. As to the landlords being indispensable to the collection of rent, as agents of the community, they certainly are not. True, George said they might be used in that function but so might anybody else. As a matter of fact, landowners of huge estates employ agents to administer their investments. Thus, to argue, as Mr. Willcox does, that titles to land will pacify landowners, is to say the exiled aristocracy of past monarchies revel in their titles when the truth of the matter is they are hopeful of regaining their confiscated lands, of which their titles are "legal" recognition.

"Georgeists should know that the … landowner's claim ... weak as it is, is far stronger than that of the public. He usually can submit a title deed in legal evidence of ownership, which in most instances is more than the public can do."

Mr. Willcox might be interested to know that the Constitution of the State of New York vests the land in the people's ownership, which is not a bad start from a legal point of view. However, for a Georgeist to admit the legality of a perpetuated fraud which is all the legal aspect of the situation is to acknowledge the right of private property in land, for how else is landlordism justified?

"If force is to be the arbiter in this case, Georgeists should know that the decision will go to the landowners, who have all of the legal, educational, financial and military power in their hands; and that to oppose this power means persecution and civil war."

Mr. Willcox, who claims to challenge the pessimists, should challenge himself at this point, because if his statement is true we might just as well tear up Progress and Poverty and deny that the people desire to better their existence. Many influential colonists held Mr. Willcox's view when debating the issue of independence or continued subservience to England. The Tories who were the landowners opposed independence, aided England in the struggle, and were deported to Canada for their truculence their lands confiscated after the war. I do not wish to imply that civil war is the only way to attain the single tax society, but if that day should come if it will prove to be the only efficacious manner of gaining our objective because the landlords will have contrived a way to block peaceful reform it is logical to believe the people will fight. In a sense, Mr. Willcox answers the question himself when he says later on, "So desperately do men want land that down through the ages, if not otherwise to be had men have fought and still fight to possess the land." Exactly. And I might add that men will continue to fight until they realize that the single tax society is the only society in which they will not have to fight in order to gain access to the land.

"Is it possible that ... Georgeists are becoming merely another group such as socialists or communists blindly, fanatically adhering to still another 'ism,' hypocritically denouncing the evil doctrine of Karl Marx of the inevitability of a class war between Labor and Capital, while ... propounding a doctrine no less evil, the inevitability of a class war between landlords and non-landlords...?"

Is it the method of achievement which interests Mr. Willcox, or the validity of the Georgeist philosophy? Lastly I must take issue with Mr. Willcox's implication that landlords are not at war with non-landlords. Of course they are! If this were not so, what other issues could be ascribed to the present war or any past war? (This is not to justify Hitler's attempt to displace England as No. I land- owner; his idea is displacement, not common property.) Why are there depressions and poverty throughout the world if not for the wars the landlords are constantly waging against the rest of mankind? Certainly Georgeists are adhering "fanatically to still another "ism'-" free-ism.