Monopoly in Land a National Peril
Herbert S. Bigelow
[Reprinted from Twentieth Century Magazine,
Woe unto them that join
house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no room, and
ye be made to dwell alone in the midst of the land! - Isaiah.
OUT of the present ferment of economic discussion is coming a
restatement of property rights.
Land is a necessity. Labor cannot supply this necessity. It is folly
and it is fatal to apply the same rule of property to a necessity
which cannot be produced by labor as to necessities which labor can
Property rights in the products of labor should be absolute. Property
in land is different. There attaches to every parcel of land an
inalienable public property right. Since land is a common necessity
which cannot be produced by labor, it is in the interest of all that
no one should be permitted to speculate in or monopolize land, but
that the private holding of land should be made conditional upon its
It is monstrous that one man should be permitted to hold out of use
land for the lack of which others are starving. Henry George proposed
to create for the nation a mighty defense. He proposed to convert a
nation of increasing tenancy into a nation of independent home owners.
By applying the principle that the possession of land should be made
conditional upon its legitimate use, he proposed to avoid the evil
against which Isaiah cried.
Now comes President Taft's Commissioner of Corporations, issuing from
the White House a report which confirms the prophecy of Henry George,
admitting that the monopoly of land is a national peril of the gravest
magnitude. Here, in official Washington, is the voice of Isaiah,
crying out against those who join house to house, and lay field to
This report of Mr. Herbert Knox Smith, on the concentration of
private ownership of the nation's standing timber, will abundantly
reward its study. It may not be extravagant to say that it is one of
the most remarkable, and, if read, destined to be one of the most
useful documents that the government has ever issued.
Forty years ago, says the Commissioner, three-fourths of the nation's
timber lands were publicly owned. Who has it now? Here are gleanings
from the report.
The Southern Pacific, the Northern Pacific and the Weyerhaeuser
Company are the three largest holders of standing timber in the United
States. The Southern Pacific alone owns 105.6 billion feet, or more
than all the timber in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. About 71
billion feet of this Southern Pacific timber is in Oregon and 35
billion in California.
Now follows a statement which could hardly have been equalled, one
fancies, by the indignant protest and graphic eloquence of Tiberius
Gracchus. Had Rome of his day the parallel of this?
"It is difficult," says the Commissioner, "to give an
adequate idea of the immensity of this holding. (The holding of the
Southern Pacific.) It stretches practically all the way from Portland,
Oregon, to Sacramento, California, a distance of six hundred and
eighty-two miles. The running time of the fastest train between these
two points is thirty-one hours; yet during all that time the traveler
is passing through