Do we do God's Work
or Work for the Landlord?

Bolton Hall

[An address delivered at The Church of The Mediator, Providence, Rhode Island.
Reprinted from the Single Tax Review, March-April 1909]

The original plan for man is that every human being should have an abundance of every necessary thing. No trade union wages, no old age pensions, no stinted portion, is the divine plan for us. "The earth," says the old book, "shall bring forth abundantly to satisfy the desire of every living thing."

But we have invented a system by which we have on one side idle lands and on the other idle hands. The monopoly of the land which each of us sustains is responsible for the unemployed lands which are so much needed by the unemployed hands.

We pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," and we send missionaries to teach the heathen that prayer to the poor - knowing that under present conditions it is often impossible that it should be answered. If God should say, "How shall I give it? Shall I send it down as manna from Heaven?" We would have to answer, "no," for then the manna would all go to the owners of the land and many would get no bread.

Just so would the answer have to be to any method which God might propose under the present system. Even if a new continent were given to us, there would be no relief, for we have been given our daily bread and all that we need in the very wisest and kindest way, in the opportunity to work for it, but we have put it away from us and from our fellows.

Just suppose that when the Pilgrim Fathers came to this country some one should have approached them and said that he was out of work. The staid Pilgrims would have laughed at him.

They would have said: "Why, clear that field of stones, or plow, or cut firewood, or dig sand, or mine coal, or burn limestone, or do anything on the land and we will give not only ample board and clothes, but big wages." Those same lands are here, mostly still unworked; and, whereas the fathers were hemmed into a little strip between the Indians and the sea, we have gridironed the whole continent with rail lines and opened up the world with steamship lines. Yet we do not laugh when even a skillful man says he is out of work and in need of all things - because the opportunities for raising food and getting clothing by work are owned and held unused for a further rise in value.

Everyone is working to increase these values. Laborers and skilled workmen, professional men and even the pastors are helping to increase the land values. We bend our energies toward improving the land. Even the churches striving to build up the community by erecting nice churches and chapels, think that they are working for the good Lord until they find that they have been working for the landlord.

In every great city there are two large sections, which are run, and have always been run, under the sanction of law, on the principle that is called in England, "the assessment of ground rent," and so successfully are they run that those who are working under that plan will laugh at you if you talk of changing it. Those two sections are the theatres and the hotels.

If a man goes to the theatre and asks for the best seat, you know that he will pay perhaps a dollar, and he will get a place in the front row. He may go there and laugh, and roar, and enjoy the play so that it is as much fun to see him as to see the performance; but the price is only a dollar. Or, he may go there, and go to sleep, and even snore, and the price is still a dollar. Or, he may stay away entirely; the price is still a dollar.

Now, for that seat the theatre manager charges the full value. What does he do with the proceeds? He provides free light, free heat, free water, free police protection, free protection from fire and all those things that a theatre goer needs. It isn't according to one's ability to pay that one pays for the support of the theatre; it is what the seat one occupies is worth.

You may go to a hotel, and ask for the cheapest room; and you will get a small one in the rear, at the top of the house, say for 50 cents a day, You go up and look at it, and take the key and go away. The price is still 50 cents a day or you may open an office there, and make $10,000 a year in that office; still, it is only 50 cents a day. You may put in magnificent furniture, and go there dressed in silk and diamonds; still it is only 50 cents a day.

What does the hotel proprietor do with the money he gets for that situation? He provides free light, free heat, free water, free police protection, free protection from fire and all things that as a hotel occupant you need.

"Seat," "situation," and "site" are the same things. A high price for the best site, a low price for the poor site and no price for the poorest site, because there is no competition for it. Good use or poor use, full use or no use, year after year the theatre manager and the hotel man each charge the full value of the mere bare situation.

That is the plan of the taxation of land values; to tax every land user what his situation is worth.