In Defense of the Philosophy of Individualism

Herbert S. Bigelow

[A radio address before The People's Lobby, 13 February 1737.
Reprinted from Land and Freedom, March-April 1937]

Our Problem is not to level down incomes and pass them around. Our problem is to free men and let them produce their own incomes. May I explain:

There are two opposing philosophies of statecraft. One is socialistic the other individualistic. One makes in the direction of a managed and regimented society the other seeks to limit government to essential function and leaving our commercial and industrial life to automatic action in a free and open field.

The socialistic philosophy now has the right of way. The philosophy of freedom is becoming a cry in the wilderness. Most persons would say that it is a lost cause. While despising the name, we are rapidly going the way of Communism.

It is undeniable that modern life must submit to controls that were not called for in a more primitive economy.

But much of our socialistic legislation is an attempt to correct evils which might better correct themselves, if we could first uproot monopoly privilege the weeds with which our garden has become choked.

It seems a folly of statecraft that we should be trying to impose socialism on top of private monopoly. We should first destroy private monopoly and see how many, or how few, ailments then are left for which we need socialistic treatment. We have patent laws which foster monopoly. Anybody and everybody should have the right to produce and give the public the benefit of any patented commodity subject to the condition of paying the patentee a reasonable royalty.

The private ownership of public utilities has developed into a gigantic monopoly. Private monopoly should never be tolerated. We cannot afford to leave natural monopolies in private hands.

There is no way of measuring the injury inflicted by patent monopoly. Mr. Morris Cooke estimates that the light and power monopolies alone are exacting from the public an excess toll of four hundred million dollars a year.

Down at the bottom of all other monopolies is the monopoly privilege that individuals have of appropriating to themselves ground rent. Owning ground rent is like owning black slaves. It is an economic fallacy which involves the power of some to appropriate the earnings of others.

What is somebody's cabbage patch in one generation will be in another generation a million-dollar lot in the center of a city. That ground rent value is a community value. We let that value slip into private pockets, although it is clearly a community product. And because our communities do not take these ground rents, which in all reason and right belong to them, they have to sup- port themselves by making tax raids on private property. To shift taxation from tax-loaded commodities to ground rents, would reduce by billions the cost of things and it would open and free for use half of the American continent which is still unused. Much of our trouble is due to the misuse of this power of taxation.

We cry for slum clearance. But, if anybody does build a decent habitation, he is penalized by taxes. If, instead of fining men with annual taxes for the crime of building houses, we were to shift these taxes on land values, we would not have to pay fifty thousand dollars an acre in the very worst slum districts of Cincinnati for slum clearance land. The more we tax the land, the less it will cost. Tax down the price of land. That's good for everybody but a private monopolist. Untax houses. That will make for slumless cities.