Do we do God's Work
or Work for the Landlord?
[An address delivered at The Church of The Mediator,
Providence, Rhode Island.
Reprinted from the Single Tax Review,
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
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.