The Road To Freedom,
And What Lies Beyond


Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood

[Published in London by C.W. Daniel, Ltd., 1913]


Land reformers differ in aims as well as in methods.

LAND REFORM -- a foolish name, since it is not the land but the dwellers on it who need reforming -- covers a menagerie of aims and programmes.

The idea that the misuse of land is in some way connected with social troubles is too obvious not to spread directly it is expressed. Artists and poets, desiring to renew Arcadian scenery; rural proprietors, anxious to revive agriculture; moralists, planning the restoration of virtue by means of wholesome labour; philanthropists, scheming to turn slumdwellers into model -- villagers; Fabian socialists, needing scope for their sociological ingenuity; eugenists, in search of a good laboratory for the concoction of the human race ; all these, in their cry for "land reform," unite with the financier, who sees in the locked-up riches of the soil fresh fields for exploitation, with the statesman, who perceives a new source of revenue, and with the anarchist and single-taxer, for whom the land is a key to social revolution.

Alas! the apparent unity is not likely to endure. Though parties now are ostensibly divided chiefly by differences of method, there is a deep underlying divergence of principle which is already beginning to cleave land reformers into two sections; and if as yet the lion sometimes lies down with the lamb, it is because neither recognises the other. For some of these land reformers wish utterly to destroy land monopoly; but the larger number wish to adapt it to their own notions of social fitness, and therefore are naturally excluded in discussing methods of attacking it. These latter desire to control land, as a workman controls his tool to whatever end he has in view; and amongst them may be reckoned the majority of philanthropists and politicians, in short, all those social reformers whose design is to better the world by various forms of benevolent despotism, and who aim not at freeing the people by freeing the land, but at using the land to govern the people.

Social reforms benefit land monopolists in the favoured areas.

Not only have these reformers not endangered land monopoly, their schemes have been actually such as to intensify its evils and fortify the monopolists. Such measures as the purchase by county councils of agricultural land for small holdings, must obviously increase the monopoly price of all country property in the coveted area, and saddle the small-holder with a disastrous rent. In point of fact, the Small Holdings Act of 1907 promptly raised the price of land in certain districts by 15 per cent., according to the statement of the then Under-Secretary for the Board of Agriculture ; while the tenants are groaning under the high rents needed to recoup the ratepayers.

A similar effect would of course follow in towns on the State purchase of slum property, and the erection at the ratepayers' expense of model dwellings. The disappearance of the slum renders the surrounding neighbourhood more attractive, and neighbouring rents rise in consequence. Anyone who has watched the transformation of Seven Dials into Shaftesbury Avenue will recognise a practical illustration of this truth.

The erection of dwellings at "charity" rents would have the simple effect of perpetuating that sort of "charity." Some philanthropist in Parliament recently proposed, that the State should provide houses for working men who get less than fifteen shillings a week. Were his scheme realised, he need not fear that his houses would ever lack inhabitants. While industrial slavery continues, the depression of town rents to a country level will not succeed in giving rural charms to the streets of Shoreditch; it will only depress the wages of other places besides Shoreditch to the wages of Bedfordshire. The only certain gainers in this arrangement are, not the workmen, who lose at one end what they gain at the other; not the small capitalist employers, whose profits, under the present system, are limited, like the workmen's, by competition; but those whose spoils are indefinitely capable of expansion -- the landlord and the landlord-capitalist.

Such measures as these make the land neither cheaper nor more accessible for free men; the only sure and permanent beneficiaries in each case are all or certain landowners.

Every kind of suggestion has been made to remedy unemployment, besides the only reasonable one of freely opening the gates to the source of all employment. Since misery is greatest amongst the unskilled labourers, it has been imagined that a solution would be found by rendering them skilled, by transferring the competition in the labour market from a lower to a higher grade of worker. With this end in view Trades' Schools and apprenticeship schemes are fostered, whose clever young scholars drive the elderly and less up-to-date artisan into the street, that the production of wealth may increase and the site value of industrial towns rise.

It must be the same with all other attempts to benefit the working class without going to the root of the social trouble. A minimum wage may, incidentally, kill a few small capitalists and employers; but it must result either in higher rents or higher prices, and so does but entrench landlordism and capitalism still more strongly. Of little use, either, is it to tax profits or incomes. Such taxes are added to the cost of production and transferred to the consumer in higher prices. Such measures will not unlock to labour the closed gates of employment, nor set free one serf whom the capitalist controls.

Anarchists[1] and Single-Taxers.

Of the named sorts of politicians, there remain but the anarchists and single-taxers who desire the genuine destruction of land monopoly -- besides those many persons who, while holding very incoherent opinions, are yet, by instinct, individualists.

Of these, the anarchists, like the socialists, consider land as only one of several equally important factors in the industrial problem. They do not recognise its basic character; and therefore they concentrate their fire on capitalists and the money system, and, in treating of land, content themselves with various empirical and arbitrary settlements, which do not seem to have any reasoned connection with the distinctive peculiarities of land as an agent of production and necessity of life. Indeed many writers, of all schools, seem to regard land as a sort of material used in agriculture, rather than as the source of all organic life and mother of all industry ; and they ignore altogether its essential characteristics of space and site.

About the year 1851 the French anarchist Proudhon wrote (Idee Gen. de la Rev., v. 5):

"It was with the land that the exploitation of mankind began; its solid foundations were laid upon the land. The land is still the stronghold of the modern capitalist, as once it was the citadel of feudalism and of the ancient aristocracy."

Yet Proudhon, in the preceding pages, proposes cheap houses and abolition of interest as the panacea for urban troubles, and in the subsequent ones, a sort of peasant proprietorship with a communal levy of half the produce, as a solution of agricultural difficulties!

A similar inconsequence of ideas is found in many honest and zealous revolutionaries of to-day, and seems to be due to a mental confusion of land, the source of life and labour, with the wealth produced from it by labour.

Confusion between Land and the Products of Labour.

(1) Both considered as private property.

This failure to distinguish the difference between land and labour-created commodities, and to discern all that is involved in that difference, is continually vitiating all plans for reform.

If land is placed in the same category with labour- created wealth, then of course the same ideas about ownership and property will be applied indifferently to both. According to this view, if a book or a knife can be privately owned, so can land. If, on the other hand, land is to be communal, then also commodities created by labour must be communal.

Now, if land is regarded as a private possession -- like a book or a knife -- individual economic freedom must produce the rule of an oligarchy - as at present; for whatever persons get control of the land will rule their fellow-creatures, and without free access to land, social liberty is only a name. Hence it comes (as was pointed out in Chapter V.) that the Manchester School of individualists, who regard land as private property, have failed to secure social justice, or even to amend the relations between capital and labour.

Bakunin wrote, about 1867, that liberty alone was but the liberty to die of hunger, and therefore only a farce. Without free access to land this is true, for liberty involves liberty to make a living, which involves use of land. But with free access to land the saying would be meaningless ; for land and labour together are the sole creators of food and shelter, and it is only when they are separated that starvation becomes the alternative of slavery.

A Digression on Free Access to Land.

"Free access to land": that means, that there shall be for every man free opportunities for individual use of a portion of that land which has no special advantages of nature or site; and that no land shall be any longer appropriated for use, nor withheld from use under the false claim of private property, except a full equivalent be paid to the rest of the community. Free access to land means a potential share for each individual in all that land for which there is no competitive demand, which is, at the time, "on the margin of cultivation."

For it is to the use of a portion of such land only that any individual has an absolute unqualified right. To the use of any portion of land, which has a competitive value because it gives a special privilege, no individual can lay absolute claim ; but he must make a return for its special value to those other claimants from whom it is appropriated. In other words, he must pay a rent to the community. And so long as an individual pays this rent to the community for the special value of special land, it cannot rightly be in any person's power to dictate to him any other terms, nor any special method for its use. Nor can it be within the just power of any central or local Government to grant permits for the use of land to those whom it may favour, and under regulations which it may choose to impose. Whilst paying to the community the special value of his land, the occupier is by right freed from any further economic obligations towards society; any other compulsory levy taxes not his privilege but the fruits of his labour -- not what he has taken from the world but what he has added to it.

But without such free access to land, social liberty must be abandoned, and all that can be aimed at will be a rough material equality, maintained, either by continual primings of the very wealthy to subsidise the very poor, or by a compulsory pooling of all the wealth produced by labour. The injustice of such methods is disguised by talking of "labour" where "labourers" is meant; as if labour were an organism, possessing but two arms and two legs. To "secure to labour what labour creates" has a high and plausible ring, but it merely means sharing the fruits of A, B and C's toil among all the letters of the alphabet. However cunningly concealed, this is what all schemes for the distribution of wealth amount to, whether they be in the crude form of collective ownership, or in the familiar and accepted shape of rates and taxes on houses and machinery and incomes; or of the familiar juggle of 9d. for 4d.; or of tariffs (whether buyer or seller pays the duty); or any other way of compulsorily levying wealth from one person, to spend either on the benefit of other individuals or on so-called common services. Yet between such schemes we must needs choose while land continues to be erroneously treated as private property; and we have the anomaly that while it is so treated, genuine private property is continually tampered with.

Confusion between Land and the Products of Labour.

(2) Both considered as communal property.

To return to our theme : When land and commodities made by labour are placed in the same category, then, if both are treated as private property, the present condition of industrial slavery must ensue. If, on the other hand, both created wealth and land are alike regarded as common property, then either the kingdom of heaven must come to effect the arrangement amicably, or open despotism must prevail. For just as no man can rightly monopolise the common soil, because no man made it, so no man can rightly be forced to share with the community anything that his own brain and limbs have made. Community of goods could only be enforced by a tyranny as great as that which now drives the tramp and the gipsy from their campfire on the common into the stone-breaking yard of the workhouse.

As land is true public property, so the produce of labour is true private property.

Such interference is only supposed necessary by reformers because they fail to see that the unjust accumulation of wealth, and its dangers, spring from land monopoly alone; that, far from being an inevitable result of unbridled liberty, they are due to the legalised confusion of land with private property. For social liberty is possible ; and it rests on the recognition of a double right : the right of everyone alike to a use of the soil, and the right of everyone to own what his own labour has made.

Communal anarchists, not recognising this difference, find themselves in a dilemma ; for in asserting common rights, not only to the soil but also to the produce of labour, they are obliged (in order to avoid Government coercion) to presuppose an Utopia in which no man will contribute less, nor take more, than his fair share from the common pool. This is assuming much. The voluntary renunciation of individual property is perhaps a flower of the perfect life, but social justice can make no claim for it. Such self-abnegation belongs to a world where the common human terms of justice and injustice have lost their meaning and yielded to a more divine conception.

The Single Tax.

The clearest recognition of the fundamental difference between land and commodities made by labour is to be found in the teaching of Henry George; and the economic and social principles that result from that difference are embodied in the doctrine of the Single Tax.

As a philosophic idea, this doctrine has profoundly influenced many thinkers. In particular, it notably affected the later writings of Leo Tolstoy, providing an immediately practicable scheme of society in accordance with his religious principles.

As a political programme, and under the name of "the Taxation of Land Values," it has in a limited form introduced itself recently into the politics of many countries, and, as a measure of industrial utility, found supporters to whom the philosophic ideas at its root would seem fantastic and highflown.

The Single Tax as an Ethical Statement.

The single-tax proposition must be analysed into two parts. The first is a statement as to the relationship which ought to exist between men in the use of land. It is as follows: That every individual has an equal right to the use of land; and that since some land, by reason of its superior nature or situation, gives to its owner a special advantage, the owner of such land should pay to the community an equivalent to its special value. This compensation, paid to the community by the owner of superior land, would be in the form of a tax which should take from him all the superior profit which that land yielded above the least profitable land in use. This superior profit is called " the site value," and in paying the site value, the owner is losing the special advantage conferred by the superior land, and restoring it for redistribution among the whole community.

This tax, or rent, paid to the community for the site value of the land he monopolises, is -- according to the single-tax doctrine -- the only contribution which can justly be levied from the individual by any government.

This proposition is sometimes stated somewhat as follows: That a tax on land values should replace all other forms of taxation for the purposes of communal revenue; or, That all rent should be communalised by means of a full tax on land values.

The proposition cannot, of course, be accepted by persons who are able to retain a belief in the absolute private ownership of land, and who would prefer that the public should purchase from present landowners -- at a price -- whatever land is needed for communal purposes. Neither does it find favour with State socialists, who believe in State ownership and control, not only of land but also of labour and of the produce of labour; and who therefore desire to "nationalise" land, even at the cost of pensioning every existing landowner. It is a stumbling-block to those rule-of-thumb reformers, who fancy that taxation should be "according to ability to pay." But to individualists of all kinds it must appeal as a solution of problems heretofore un- solved. Even among absolutely anarchical and decentralised communities it would appear that some such solution of the difficulties arising from special advantages in site or minerals must be agreed upon, if there is to be real equality of conditions.

The Single Tax as a Method.

The second part of the single-tax proposition is a practical programme. By putting this system in force, or even by only beginning to apply it, as a legislative measure and under existing conditions, land monopoly would be broken down and access to land restored to the whole community. Its advocates propose to do away with all other taxes on property, and to levy taxation on each landowner according to the land value he owns, so that rent may replace all other revenue for communal purposes. They contend that such a land value tax, even in its beginnings and gradually introduced, (1) will bring all land into its most productive use, lower the price of goods and improve material conditions; (2) will make such a change in the worker's bargaining power as shall turn him into a free man, and secure to him the full fruits of his work; and (3) will prevent the possibility of wealth being unjustly accumulated by industrial methods.

Of these three results, the second, the freeing of individuals from industrial slavery, is by far the most important. That, and the third, the prevention of capitalist exploitation, are the only two which come strictly within the scope of these chapters; although the first, the increase and cheapening of production and amelioration of physical conditions, figures prominently whenever the taxation of land values is discussed on political platforms.

That the increase of production is perpetually put forward by politicians as the main result of the taxation of land values is, we think, the cause why the measure is regarded with such suspicion by many sincere reformers, who are led to suspect in it some further trick for further enriching the capitalist employer by new opportunities for exploitation. It cannot be too clearly emphasised, that the argument for the single tax, as a practical method, is not the greater creation of wealth (although that wealth should be then fairly distributed), nor the increase of revenue for public services, nor the better housing and improved material conditions of the people. These are all but incidents in its course. Its great final result, that which inspires men, who are more than professional politicians, to hope in and work for it, must be the emancipation of the whole population.

In Chapter IX. are discussed in detail the immediate effects to be expected from a practical application of the single-tax principle.

On the side of theory there seem but two objections that can be raised to it by the most fervent lovers of liberty. First, that as a tax, it involves the existing Government machinery. To this may be replied, that the single tax involves less State interference than any other political programme; and that, as a social truth, it will survive the practice and theory of autocratic, democratic, or any other sort of government. Also that it is the only method of genuine revolution which does not of necessity involve earthquake and catastrophe. The second possible individualist objection, is the question of how far the community, who rightly own the site value, can be represented by any government, when it comes to applying the revenue drawn from it. A careful consideration of the ideas that are discussed in the following pages may lead to the conclusion that the difficulty would in practice solve itself, and that site values will tend to disappear as the population emancipates itself from present conditions. Until then, local devolution might offer a convenient temporary solution.

But however imperfect the single tax might be, as worked by political machinery during the time of transition from this state of society to a new and better one, however partial its application in the hands of any conceivable legislature, yet it must at least be far more just than the methods of taxation now in vogue. At the present time, our governments not only leave scarcely touched that source of revenue to which the public can fairly lay claim -- the rents drawn by individuals through the monopoly in land -- but they substitute a tax on individual earnings, and apply the proceeds, in the name of public services, to all manner of objects from which that individual gains possibly little or no benefit, or of which he may absolutely disapprove. Every year a larger number of citizens grow discontented and suspicious, not only of the methods and education of the schools, but of compulsory schooling in itself. Increasing numbers condemn war and military service. Distrust of police and judicial methods, and scepticism as to the treatment of criminals, are rapidly growing. And the condemnation and the scepticism come, not from the ignorant, who might be converted, but from the thoughtful and educated. Yet private property -- the creation of personal labour -- is compulsorily taken in ever-increasing taxation to carry on these systems, and to introduce fresh schemes, such as experts delight in, in defiance of individual opinion and individual rights.


  1. By "anarchist" we do not mean a person who attempts to redress injustice by throwing bombs. It is obvious that no genuine anarchist could approve of explosives and terrorism any more than he approves of police and prisons. Such things are only an attempt to supplant one reign of force by another.


Chapter I
Where The Road Leads
Chapter II
On Free and Forced Exchange
Chapter III
On Social Reform
Chapter IV
The Strengthening of Government
Chapter V
The Roots of Slavery
Chapter VI
On Land and Capital
Chapter VII
Various Theories About Land Reform
Chapter VIII
Marginal Land and Economic Rent
Chapter IX
The Single Tax as a Method of Destroying Land Monopoly
Chapter X
The Next Revolution
Chapter XI
The Steps of the Change
Chapter XII
What It Would Mean
Chapter XIII
What Lies Beyond
* *