A Single Tax
or Land Value Taxation?
[An address made 12 October, 1931, at the sixth
annual Henry George Congress, Baltimore, Maryland, titled: "Your
Work and Mine"; Reprinted from Land and Freedom,
WE have been divided between those who, headed by the London Land
and Liberty, advocate the "step-by-step" method of
restoring the land to the people, taking a penny in the pound at
first, and those "one-steppers" who, with the Forum
of Stockton, Calif., ask for the immediate collection of all rents of
land apart from any improvements to be used for all public expenses.
We must not forget that the great obstacle to our immediate success
is ignorance and indifference. Anyone who brings attention to the
right of the use of the earth is helping both methods. Besides that,
each person must work in his own method. If we could not do that, the
most of us would not work at all.
We have been handicapped by putting the financial or tax side of our
moral reform first. The masses do not even know what their taxes are,
and do not realize that they pay almost all of the taxes.
For myself, I find a new inspiration in saying that the land belongs
to the people morally, and even legally, and that we should take its
rent instead of taxes. Everyone can understand that, and it raises no
difficulties of what taxes are or who pays them. This is the simple
Production is simply the application of manual or mental labor to
land and other natural resources. A house, for example, is merely land
changed in form. The bricks are clay, the mortar is limestone, the
cement is clay and silicate all burned with coal. The wood is trees,
the metal is ore. All materials come out of the land, and if we check
or stop the production of any of them or the exchange of any of them,
building is checked. The same with machines and the materials that are
worked up by machines.
Is not then waste land one of the greatest wastes whether it be the
poorly worked farms, idle water power, or ten-thousand-dollar
buildings on million-dollar sites?
Every year the necessity grows for more expenditure of tax money ;
every year the State is compelled to assume new duties. Concomitantly
with this there is a vast increase in the value of land, caused by the
increase of population and of accessibility of the land. Every
increase in the population, every road, every church and school in
short, every advance, whether social, mechanical, educational,
political, special or general, raises the value of some land.
But we now allow nearly all of this to be appropriated by private
holders, and private with-holders, of the resources of the earth. At
present, this causes speculation and results in the with-holding of
much land from its best uses.
To cure this, there need be no disturbance of land tenures. It is
necessary only to require each holder to pay fairly for the particular
privilege he holds. Why not avail ourselves of the value created by
the public for the public expenses?
Among our own people there is another obstacle to our success: the
preposterous claim that we have made little progress in these fifty-
two years! The reason that eyes are shut to the advances we have made
is mainly that some of us see the Poverty, but unconsciously do not
want to see the Progress. We have some method of our own to which we
are attached, and at which we work devotedly, believing that ours is
the only method, and that anyone who is not helping us at that is not
helping at all.
Or we think accordingly that the other methods must have been without
results. We think that the truth we have to publish is so evident that
men have only to understand it in order to embrace it. Neither of
those thoughts is correct. That was the tragedy of Jesus' life: that
he saw so clearly that if men would only love one another, armies,
kings, courts, crime, involuntary poverty, and all other evils that
afflict mankind, would disappear. That the rulers knew this, too, was
exactly why they crucified him.
To me, it is marvelous that we have gotten so far. Think: the
agitation for equal rights for women began with Mary Wolstoncraft, and
after all these years it is still to be won in most of our countries
and is nowhere complete! It was two hundred and fifty years ago that
the agitation against chattel slavery began an abuse that affected
only a few million people and we have not got it abolished yet! Even
we Americans have it as peonage and as the enforced, unfair and
unprofitable labor of convicts.
But the injustice that we attack now affects every man, woman and
child. We attack the longest established and universal wrong in the
world, for if slavery was the sum of all villainies the private
appropriation of land rent is the fundamental iniquity.
We are all of us a little blind to something, and it ill becomes us
to condemn our brothers who are blind to something else. One of the
wisest things that Jesus said was 'Judge not that ye be not judged;"
to which we might lave added, "for your judgment will probably be
Nevertheless, this despair keeps us from our best work. We think our
influence is so small that it is not worth while for us to strive for
the main object.
We must not blame men for their blindness. If they knew better, they
would do better; light may have been held up to them, but they being
blind did not see it. We find our fathers, who have failed to educate
them, are as much responsible for that as they are. Their eyes are not
yet opened, or, at least, they are like babies who can not distinguish
what they see. We can not be angry at one another for childish
failings when we learn in our hearts that we are all children of one
God. Well, we are all children in some respect. One is ignorant or
unreasonable, another unsympathetic, but maybe the unreasonable one is
loving and the cold one logical. Anyhow, each is doing the best he can
as far as he has got, morally and intellectually.
The foundation principle of business, of political economy and of
religion, is that we are of one flesh. Our interests are inextricably
bound together, so closely that a killing of a kinglet of whom most of
us had never even heard precipitated a war that affected our fortunes,
our families and our lives. It must be so; no one does any good that
is not for everyone, no one can do any evil that does not hurt
mankind. We have heard that we are in the hands of God ; in truth we
are the hands of God.
He who created the world made it that way; made it so that it
develops itself, or rather that we develop it; so that the Kingdom is
really at hand to him whose eyes are open to see it; yes, so that the
economic millennium will come even if we do not work, but it won't be
our millennium when it comes.
As I went to Portsmouth Harbor I saw the Eddystone lighthouse, which
has been an inspiration to me because of Jean Ingelow's beautiful
ballad of Winstanley. Winstanley was a ship owner, and the poor
drowned sailors who went on the submerged rock made his heart sore, so
he resolved to build a lighthouse. Everyone laughed at the absurd idea
of building where no foundation could be had. But Winstanley devoted
his life and his money to that one thing; and year after year at each
flood tide he followed in the beams he had laid at ebb tide. At last
he got a foundation on the Eddystone Rock.
Winstanley set his foot on shore;
Said he, " My work is done
I hold it strong to last as long
As aught beneath the sun.
"But if it fall as fall it may,
Borne down in ruin and rout,
Another than I shall build it high
And brace the girders stout
"A better than I shall build it high,
For now the way is plain,
And though I were dead," Winstanley said,
"The light shall shine again.
"But if it fall, then it were well
That I should with it fall,
Since for my part I have built my heart
In the courses of its wall."
Again, Olive Shreiner tells of the hunter who caught one glimpse of
the bird of Truth and followed it over mountains. He scaled height
after height, only to see other mountains beyond.
At last he came to a sheer wall of rock and climbed, painfully hewing
the steps as he rose, with sweat and groans. At last, gasping for
breath, he reached the top, only to find another height in front. But
his last words are: "Where I lie down worn out, others will stand
young and fresh. By the steps that I have made they will rise; by the
stairs that I have built they will mount. They will never know the
name of the man that built them ; at the clumsy work they will laugh;
when the stones roll they will curse me but they will mount by my
steps; they will rise on my stairs; for no man liveth to himself and
no man even so much as dieth to himself."