The Trojan Horse of Land Reform
[A Critique of Land Communism or "Single Tax"
as advocated in the Doctrinal Statement prepared by The Rev. Dr.
Edward McGlynn (New York City: The Science of Society Foundation,
Our world, the earth, grows greener, more organic and alive, more
habitable for man, with its every turning in the celestial radiance of
its vitalizing sun.
When we turn our minds to the order and the beauty evolving and
discoverable in the prevailing processes of this material and of this
living world (thereby turning away from chaos and disorder) and learn
the mind of God as manifested in the enduring works of God, we may
ourselves employ these processes in the further building of the world
about us in the image of our needs, desires and dreams. This power to
create (or even to destroy) the environment of man has in recent times
been notably achieved.
As part of the whole organic process, there is a growing order in the
inter-relationships among large numbers and populations of men. These
inter-relationships are of two kinds: those by which men better and
thereby longer live, and those in which they poorer live and sooner
die. The one is social, contractual, and thereby creative. The other
is political, coercive, and thereby destructive.
When at last we turn our eyes to the order and the beauty evolving in
the contractual processes---the Golden Rule relationships--prevailing
in our midst and far and wide (and thereby away from the chaos and
disorder of the anti-contractual, the coercive and destructive), and
learn the mind of God as manifested in the orderly and creative
processes that prevail among freely inter-functioning men, we may in
like manner understand and thereby recognize and honor and extend
their creative operation in the distribution of the gifts of God to
As with the gifts of men to men, so also with those from God to men,
all good things that are limited must in some manner be allocated to
and distributed among men. So far as these processes are
contractual--services or goods for equal services or goods, under the
balanced equities of the Market and the Golden Rule---the lives of men
are truly served. So far as they are of ""the world",
political and thereby arbitrary and coercive, the lives of men are
shortened and destroyed--whoever wields the worldly power of war. What
is vital to the freedom, to the very life and peace, of men, is not
how things come into existence; it is how they are distributed,
whether by contract and consent, or by coercion and the potential
force of war.
The Golden Rule of contract can be practiced only as men first evolve
into a common recognition of property right--the right of separate
title and possession first in themselves, then to whatever else,
without respect to its origin or creation, they hold title and right
of possession by the general consent. Only so can they begin to make
and perform contracts and thus effect reciprocal exchanges of their
limited but ever increasing services, goods and possessions to the
enlargement of their lives.
The creative purpose of this Critique of land communism, in whatever
guise, is to draw attention to and aid understanding of the dependence
of freedom upon property, and of Society upon the contractual
functioning of its institution of private property in land---that
beautiful providence of a Golden Rule, founded on the nature of things
and the nature of man, for the creative distribution of the gifts of
God to man, no less than in its likewise fruitful serving of the gifts
of men to men.
THE TROJAN HORSE OF ""LAND REFORM"
The avowed and obvious aim of the communist world conspiracy is
seizure of the political power of taxation and the compulsory
regulation of human affairs by a political and coercive government.
Since land is the sole source and subsistence of human life,
preemption by the state of a people's lands is all that is necessary
to control absolutely their lives. Short of this expropriation no
communism can be effective or complete. Hence land communism, above
all else, is fundamental to every form of absolute or totalitarian
control. And land communism gains enormous ideological support from
the almost universal belief that the rents and increments that Society
automatically awards to its land owners for their contractual, instead
of political and arbitrary, distribution of its sites and resources is
""unearned"", and the consequent popular fallacy
of the "unearned increment", so called.
There are degrees of communism in many lands. All property, to the
extent that it is obtained by taxation, or otherwise seized, for
public or common use is communized property. This is partial
communism. But when the land is totally taken or taxed, that is not
partial communism. That is total communism. For the authority of
government to allocate access to land is the authority to prescribe
its every occupancy, or use, and thus to dictate the lives of those
who must subsist upon or from it. The communist conspirators shrewdly
proceed, first of all, to win or seize the taxing power, then to
enforce it one hundred percent by enslaving or casting out the owners
and installing commissars instead--for whom the honeyed snare of "land
reform"" has so well prepared the way.
Wealth of Nations Adam Smith declares that in the ownership of
land the private interest and the public interest are not opposed but
are preeminently the same. Karl Marx however, asserts the contrary;
and in the later portions of his Das Kapital he strongly
emphasizes the supposed necessity of communist expropriation.
To this Henry George added a far more ingenious dialectic in his
highly rhetorical Progress and Poverty of some seventy years
ago. In thought and ideals, this book is all for freedom and free
enterprise, but in practice it is a fervid appeal for the ultimate of
"land reform". Its author profoundly believed and taught
that to ""make land common property" would not only be
compatible with but was absolutely necessary to the preservation of
free institutions and "the democratic way of life." His
influence has reached far and wide and men and minds of highest
attainments have been swayed and shaken by his moral fervor and
intellectual naivete. That great Roman Catholic churchman of his day,
the Reverend Dr. Edward McGlynn, suffered excommunication for his
faith; yet, after six years, so persuasively did he set out his land
communist creed that his "comprehensive statement" was
accepted by the Papal Authority without reservation as containing
nothing that was "contrary to the Christian faith or to Catholic
doctrine" and he was reinstated in full. This ""Doctrinal
Statement" prepared by Dr McGlynn and accepted by the Church is
doubtless the most powerful and persuasive short exposition of the
land communist theory in its religious guise that was ever made. Yet
it is in no manner conclusive or sound.
First, he lays it down that all men have a God-given right to pursue
happiness and therefore to use and live upon the earth. In this, he
implies, as later on he asserts, that without intervention by the
State such a right is denied. The question is not whether men have
that right, but how that right can be justly practiced and enjoyed.
Shall it be practiced socially, as it is now, in accordance with the
moral law and the common custom of free contractual engagements, or
should it be brought under the compulsory regulations and decrees of
the political authority? Shall the ""particular"1
assignments be made under the Golden Rule of Society, the Rule
divinely enjoined, or under the shifty rules of monarchs or of
majorities, construed and enforced by the appointees of "free""
governments ""democratically" elected and having
supposedly limited powers? The most solemn constitutions cannot limit
for long the powers of the selfsame governments that interpret them.
And even if governments could be thus self limiting freedom resides in
the practice of God's Golden Alternative in coercion of man by man;
not in the mere restraint or limitation of it.
Dr. McGlynn credits God with giving the earth to no man ""in
particular"" but, as he says, "to mankind in general"".
He grants the necessity of ""undisturbed, permanent,
exclusive private possession of portions"" of it. But he
holds that since God made, as he thinks, no other provision for it. He
deloved this "particular" distribution upon the political
State, as a "chief function of civil government". He thus
ascribes a divine authority and "dominion over those natural
bounties" to "the organized community, or State",--to
the sole agency of taxation, tyranny and war. In the same paragraph,
he tells us also that "God is the author of society"",--meaning
"the organized community, or State""--thus treating
Society and the State as though one and the same. By this confusion of
opposites, more common in his day than in ours, the good Doctor was
blinded to the truth that God did ordain and has established in our
midst a far diviner agency of His will than the State, to distribute
peaceably and profitably among men His bounty of the earth, not by the
corrupt and ruthless power of taxation or other coercion of men by
fellow men, but by the Golden Rule of contract and consent, with
recompense and profit for all concerned.
Being unfamiliar, as he must have been, with the standard concepts of
ancient and international law, Dr. McGlynn could give no heed to the
long established juridical distinction between proprium or
dominion and the imperium; between property right and
the political prerogative; the right of ownership, resting on title
and consent and exercised by contract; and the right of
ex-propriation, springing from discovery and conquest or from supine
surrender, and exercised by force. The just distribution of land he
asserts must rest not on ownership but on ex-propriation by the State.
Hence he is firm for an exclusively political dominion over the gifts
of God to mankind, holding that,
The maintenance of this dominion over the natural bounties is a
primary function and duty of the organized community, in order to
maintain the equal rights of all men to labor for their living and for
the pursuit of happiness, and therefore their equal right of access
directly or indirectly to the natural bounties.
And he further holds that,
The assertion of this dominion by civil government is especially
necessary, because, with the very beginning of civil government and
with the growth of civilization, there comes to the natural bounties
of the land, a peculiar and increasing value distinct from and
irrespective of the products of private industry existing therein.2
This value is not produced by the industry of the private possessor or
proprietor, but is produced by the existence of the community. It is,
therefore, called the unearned increment.
He should rather have said that this increasing land value is not
distinct from and irrespective of, but by reason of and in proportion
to the value of the products of private industry; for where little of
other value is produced there is little or no land value, and where
the greatest of other values are produced, there are the greatest of
land values. In his assertion that land value is produced by the
existence of the community and is ""therefore called the
unearned increment" he fails to observe that this very rent or ""unearned""
increment is itself necessarily a part of "the products of
private industry"" and so cannot be, as he says, "distinct
from and irrespective of" those products. If in this oversight,
he regards the ""unearned increment" or rent as being
produced by "the existence of the community" or the ""growth
of society"" he must be trying to think of some part of "the
products of private industry" as not being any part of ""the
products of private industry".
Being quite certain that this portion of production is not exchanged
for any services by the proprietor for which he receives it as
increment or rent, Dr. McGlynn is likewise certain that the State is
ordained to take it away from him by force. Better had he known that
the rent is the owner's social recompense for the vitally necessary
services to Society that he and his fellow owners perform in their
practice of an alternative, as against either anarchy or tyranny, in
the allocation of God's gifts to men. For without this social
alternative there could be but little, if any, free production at all
out of which to pay rent, and none would arise.
In the very day when Dr. McGlynn was, in effect, deifying the state,
Society itself was conducting its own proprietary and contractual
allocations (contracting first parties are always owners) of sites and
resources through owners designated or accepted by Society as its
agents for performing that distributive function. All this without
force or opposition, and for none but an automatic and voluntary
social revenue or recompense for performing it. Even Henry George
learned at last that distribution by exchange is productive---that it
is, in fact, the very highest mode of production---hence worth of its
And this recompense called ground rent or increment, being the
maximum that anyone would pay, by a further beneficence and of
necessity, came not from the least productive but from those who could
put the land to its most productive use. Not only was this most
essential of all public services being autonomously funded and carried
on but, by a yet further beneficence, the selfish diligence of the
distributors to obtain the highest rent or price was being turned into
a social blessing to all. For it best served the public and common
interest that so much of the land as, in face of the political
deterrents, could be profitably employed should be used or occupied by
the most productive users, since only they,--those who would most
enrich the common markets, could gain therefrom the wherewithal to pay
the highest rent or price.
All this--to borrow Dr. McGlynn's own words--all this ""beautiful
providence, that may be truly called divine, since it is founded on
the nature of things and the nature of man""--was wholly
unknown to Dr. McGlynn, or, rather, despised by him; for he was victim
of a senseless slogan, namely, that "the land owner performs no
service to Society"". So, not the autonomous Society, with
its ways of peace and of profit to all, but the State, with its rule
of force and ways of war, became in his eyes the divinely ordained
power to ""maintain dominion over the natural bounties""
of the earth and thus, without his realizing it, over the lives of the
This Doctrinal Statement of Dr. McGlynn reflects all too well the
customary delusion of those who, all unwittingly yet in effect, are
for total communism in the land, the delusion, namely,--that the high
price of land is what keeps it idle and unused, and that to tax its
value away would force it into use. Yet it is notorious that in times
of low price land cannot be sold or leased--except forced sales--and
only where highest in price is it most intensely used. The truth is
that nothing but the prospect and hope of profit or recompense can
bring land under either private ownership and distribution by the free
process of contract---as opposed to political administration--or into
any use for physical production and a similar contractual distribution
of its products. When that prospect rises, so also rises the owning,
the distributing the use, the rent and the price of land. When such
hope declines, so does the distribution, use and value of the land
decline -by whomsoever it may be owned.
In the wise words, even of Henry George, among those last written by
him, we must seek "the laws which are part of that system or
arrangement which constitutes the social organism or body economic, as
distinguished from the body politic or state", which, "though
they may be crossed by human enactment, can never be annulled"".4
There should be more seeking to understand--and less attempt to set
aside by force---the beneficent laws that await and divinely prevail
in the free and peaceful engagements, the non-political, the
contractual, relationships among men.
He who rests his hope and faith in the coercive State but worships
Mars, and his ways, however high intended, are the ways of force and
war. The Living Free Society, this emerging quiet Kingdom of the
Golden Rule, as it becomes better understood and known and thereby
better grows and serves, this alone can lead men in the ways of life
and peace and thereby save them from that total rule whose terrors but
the nearer creep when the natural laws working in the free
relationships of men are ignored or scorned---and Freedom's Light
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- Quotations from the Doctrinal
Statement emphasized by italics.
- Emphasis supplied.
- Henry George, The Science
of Political Economy, Ch. XI, pp. 316, 340.
- Ibid., p. 428.