The Road To Freedom,
And What Lies Beyond


Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood

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


I desire that you should employ for the fulfilment of my aims those very institutions which it is your mission to abolish, and those very rudiments of equity which it will be your task to complete, so that the new society may be, as it were, the spontaneous, natural, and necessary development of the old one, and that the Revolution may be the continuation of that ancient order of things which it destroys and supplants " (Phoudhon, IdSeGSnSrale de la Revolution, v. 1).

Without entering into the philosophy of the above sentence, and the question how far a faulty system can serve in its own regeneration, we quote it as aptly describing the endeavour of those who advocate the Single Tax as a method. And it is purely as a method of destroying land monopoly, and therewith capitalist exploitation, that the present essay deals with it.

As a method, the Single Tax consists in a positive and a negative part. To the positive part belongs the scheme for the taxation of land values, on which the destruction of land monopoly depends. The negative part is the removal of levies on true private property, usually spoken of as "the abolition of taxes on industry," to which it may be necessary to refer in discussing details.

For brevity's sake, the word "taxes" will be used to cover both taxing and rating, imperial and local.

Landlords' profits come direct from land monopoly: Capitalists'' profits from the artificial shortage caused by that monopoly.

The power of landlords lies in their legal right to keep people off land. Their wealth comes from the direct toll which they are thus enabled to levy on all those who exist on the land - whether worker or idler. The rent so paid for the means to live and to work falls in the first instance upon the immediate hirer of the land, but ultimately it comes from those who actually use the land and its contents -- the workmen -- since it is out of the produce of their labour alone that the rent can be paid. It is they too who create the site-value for which they pay, since it is the opportunity of exploiting their labour, which causes a competitive demand among capitalists for special pieces of land and gives to these their site- value.

The wealth and power of capitalists, on the other hand, in so far as they are not derived directly from landownership, are due to that artificial shortage of natural resources which land -monopolists create.

This artificial shortage consists in (1) land which has a true rentable value, but which is held out of use, or not used to the extent of its value. Such are empty sites in the heart of towns ; or fields near towns or railway stations, which are wanted for houses or other urban purposes; minerals lying beneath the surface, wanted, but unworked; good agricul- tural land kept unproductive for purposes of sport, or privacy, or pride of possession. (2) Land which has no true rentable value - such land as that spoken of in the last chapter, which owes no tax to the community because it is on, or below, the margin of cultivation - for which, in the absence of land monopoly, there would be no competition, and part of which, therefore, any individual might rightly claim to use free. Much of such land would give its occupier a livelihood, provided he paid no tribute to landlord or State, and enjoyed security of tenure. At present, however, since it cannot be got, or only under unworkable conditions, it is not in active request, and there is often supposed to be no demand for it.

This artificial shortage in land, both rentable and non-rentable, which is withheld from use or arbitrarily used, has three direct effects; it increases the competition for all land that can, now, be got, thus raising rents above their economic to monopoly heights; it lessens the total amount of wealth produced, thus maintaining high prices in scarce commodities; it enhances the competition in the labour market, thus depressing wages.

It is by this forced competition in the labour market, as explained in Chapter VI., that capitalist employers are able to make their profits and amass wealth in formidable bulk ; whilst the landlord draws his revenue from the mere fact of ownership.

The landowner can levy toll on the produce of all labour applied to land yielding more than a bare subsistence. The capitalist, as such, can only levy toll so long as land is not available in sufficient quantities for the number of would-be workers. A country is quite conceivable and possible in which, though the land was all privately owned by a king or a few landowners living on the rents they drew, there would yet be no exploitation by capitalists.

If in such a country the whole population were secure of access to the natural resources of the land, then, although they paid away almost all their produce to the landlords, in rent, yet, because there was no competition for a living amongst them, the capitalist could not buy them, except at the price they themselves set on their own independence.

Such conditions, however, would not be likely to last long in any real country, for it is to the advantage of landlords to make the supply of land less than the demand for it, and to withhold some from use, so that the site-value of the available remainder may be enhanced and monopoly rents rise. Just so, in the eighteenth century, when difficulties of transport prevented competition between coal-fields, it was to the advantage of Northumbrian coal -owners to limit their output of coal and so raise its price. Similarly, we have recently seen the coal-owners benefit by the coal shortage caused by the strike of last March.

It is not necessary that the landowners should act in this manner, like the eighteenth -century coal- owners, with deliberate intent. A little idleness and irresponsibility on their part is enough to cause the mischief.

"In addition to the tax levied for the profit, real or imaginary, of the monopolists, the consumer" [in this case the user of land] ". . . pays an additional tax for their laziness and incapacity " (John Stuart Mill, Prin. Pol. Ec, Bk. V., ch. x., par. 4).

Evil effect of present rates.

And, besides the natural inertia of those who are secure in the necessaries of life, landlords are actively discouraged by the present system of rating in efforts to develop their land and employ labour on it. The heavy rates upon houses, machinery, stabling, sheds, glass-houses, etc., the 50 per cent, exemption given to agricultural land, and the rebates on game-covers, are all a very definite discouragement of production, and a distinct encouragement to keep land vacant or half used and cause a shortage in it.

And while this artificial shortage in land continues, the labour market will continue to be overcrowded, and employers still carry on their exploitations. Further, the capitalist employers, having thus made their profits, are the only persons able to meet the artificially high rents, to bring out the large sums needed, and to face the risks attendant on such speculative transactions. Indeed, land monopoly and capitalism continue to play into each other's hands, and to augment like a snowball with each completed cycle of production . Owing to land monopoly, the capitalist is alone able to buy the means of giving work, and hence to exploit the workers. Having exploited a few workers, he is - thanks still to land monopoly -- in a yet more favourable position for buying the means of exploiting more. And as his operations thus steadily increase, so does land value rise in their neighbourhood.

Therefore, effectively to destroy land monopoly, it is necessary to stop the robbery by the private landlord of economic rent, by transferring it from him to the rightful owners of it - the whole community. At the same time, the artificial shortage of land must be broken down, so as to bring unused or misused land into full use, so that the landlords' monopoly rents may disappear and the robbery of industry by the capitalist employer be ended. But to stop the exploitation of the workers would not be enough; for the land monopoly has not only robbed them of their wealth, but of their freedom also; for every individual has a claim, not only to the wealth of the earth, but to an actual share of its surface. Therefore no destruction of land monopoly can be complete, which does not also provide for every individual a possibility of free personal access to the soil on the margin of cultivation.

Taxation of land values as a means of communalising rent and of breaking down artificial land-shortage.

The taxation of land values has all these aims in view. Fully applied, it would be the establishment by law of just economic relations between each occupier of land and the rest of the community, and when this first fundamental relation -- the prelude to all social and industrial life -- is equitably established, those evils, which now flourish on the primary injustice, will wither at the root.

The whole economic rent of land could be secured to the community, and the landlords' direct profits completely eliminated by a full tax upon all land values, so as to completely transfer their amount from the private landlords' to the public exchequer. But even a partial tax of so much per cent, on the value would be sufficient to make a breach in the monopoly wall and very largely destroy the land- shortage. And in proportion as it did this, the capitalists' power of exploitation would diminish, and landlords' rents sink from their monopoly towards their economic level.

The efficacy of such a tax depends, of course, on its being borne by the landlord and by no one else. If a tax on land value could be transferred from the landowner to the tenant (or land -user) in higher rents, or to the community in higher prices, in the same way that a tax on cards is transferred to the bridge-player, it would obviously be futile as a way of communalising rent. That such a tax cannot be shifted, but does always lie where it falls, on the owner of the land and on him alone, is the opinion of the most respected economists.

It may be well, however, to briefly outline here the arguments which prove such a tax not transferable.

Why landlords cannot shift a tax on land values.

The price of commodities produced by labour, in which there is no monopoly, is fixed by the cost of production. This is obvious: for if boots grew naturally, like daisies in summer, they would have no price at all. What gives them their price is the cost of producing them. This is their minimum price, below which they would not, under the same general conditions, be produced at all. It is also their maximum price, since the competition of producers, anxious to sell, drives it as low as possible. By " price " here is meant "wholesale price"; for into retail price other considerations enter, and locality, fashions, goodwill and partial monopolies come in to make a pair of boots in Bond Street dearer than a perfectly similar pair in South Kensington, or in one shop in Bond Street than in another.

The cost of production of any commodity is, at the present time, made up of:

  • Wages of labour
  • Interest on capital outlay for all the plant
  • Monopoly rent of factory sites, etc.
  • Rates and taxes

Each pair of boots has to pay its share of the total cost, and this fixes its price.

If any of the factors in production rise in price throughout the boot trade, the price of boots will rise.

If the interest on capital rises, the price of boots will rise; an additional tax on boots or boot factories will raise the price ; a rise in monopoly rent would raise it; so would a general increase in wages (un- less accompanied by greater efficiency). Otherwise the price will remain constant.

The price of land, however, does not depend on the cost of production, for there is no cost of production. It is determined by the price of the least valuable land in use, and this is, at the present time, as we have before shown, a monopoly price, due entirely to the owner's right to withhold the land from use. The monopoly price of the least valuable land is, generally speaking, such, that its full rental value (calculated at a percentage of the capital value) will leave the average tenant just enough produce for a living.

The rent of all other sites of land is measured by the excess of the value of their produce over the produce of the least valuable land in use. So that, if the produce of an acre of the least valuable land in use = the tenant's living + a?, the rent of it will be x, and the rent of other more valuable sites will be x + a, x + b, x + c, and so on. A tax on all land values cannot alter the differences in value of the sites, and a, b, c, will be constant. Therefore, unless the land values tax increases x, it cannot increase x+a, x + b, etc. - i.e. if it does not raise the rent of the least valuable land in use, it will not raise it elsewhere.

It will be sufficient, therefore, to show that a tax on land values could not raise the rent, or price (i.e. the capitalised rent) of the least valuable land in use.

It is simpler to treat the question as one of capital selling price rather than of rent, because capital selling price is less subject to particular and accidental variation than rent.

The actual price of the least valuable land in use is always approximately its monopoly price, whereas the actual rent paid by the tenant is by no means always the monopoly rent. Personal friendships intervene, or the landlord does not care to exert himself to get the utmost return out of his land, and prefers to have a steady, well-known tenant rather than a stranger who bids higher. In such cases, the landlord is taking out part of his rent in personal convenience; and it is part of his monopoly privilege that he can thus indulge himself by keeping favourites on his estate at a favourable rent, instead of getting the full value from it.

The price, then, of the least valuable land in use is, generally speaking, a true monopoly price -- the highest than can be got, not the lowest that could be taken.

If this is so, then no additional financial liability will make it sell for more. A tax on it will not raise the price nor the rent based on the price. On the contrary, since the tax has to be calculated into the cost by the buyer, the price will fall by the capitalised amount of the tax - and this is, in fact, the very point to which opponents of the tax, such as Mr Harold Cox, object.

But if this is not so, if the tax on land value can in reality be shifted on to the tenant, then the price of land is not a monopoly price, but, like the price of a manufactured commodity, competing for customers in the market ; in which case the least valuable land in use is not to-day either withheld or sold at a monopoly price, but is already always put upon the market, and sold, or rented out, in brisk competition with other landlords also eager to sell, and at prices to which there is no minimum, since there is no cost of production to set one. And, obviously, in this case, every portion of land is now being put to its most remunerative use, and every possibility of employment for labour is already utilised to the full.

All of which is patently absurd, and contrary to facts. Therefore the prices of the least valuable land in use are actually to-day monopoly prices; and the rents based on those prices are monopoly rents, and cannot be raised by a tax on land values; and the rents of superior lands cannot be raised either, because they depend on the rent of the least valuable land in use.

A tax on land values cannot, therefore, be shifted from the landlord's shoulders on to the tenant's.

Neither can it raise prices. For it could do so only by increasing the rate of interest on the capital outlay, or the wages of labour, or the rent of land. It is obvious that it cannot in itself raise the rate of interest on capital, nor in itself raise the wages of labour; and it has been shown not to raise rent.

Therefore it cannot in itself raise prices.[1] Therefore a tax on land values falls solely on the landlord, and cannot be transferred by him either to the tenant or to the community.

Exact Proposal of "Taxation of Land Values"

Since there is much misconception about the whole subject, the proposal contained in the taxation of land values cannot be too precisely detailed, so that it may be quite clearly understood what it does and what it does not involve. Under the complete taxation of land values, then, those rates and taxes would be abolished which take toll of every citizen according to the kinds of commodities he is using (machinery, glass-houses, motor cars, etc.), or according to the total amount of wealth that he has amassed by fair means or foul. Such penalising of industry and wealth in itself is both unjust and suicidal, and it would have no excuse in a society so founded that exploitation was impossible. These means of communal revenue would be replaced by a tax (or rate), which holders of land having a competitive value would pay to the central (or local) treasury in proportion to this special value. This value, at any particular time, would be measured by the price it would fetch in the open market if stripped of all improvements (houses, fencing, manuring, draining), this price being a gauge of the community's need for the bare site or its contents [2]; and the annual tax, or rate, would of course be equivalent to the economic rent. It should be clearly remembered that this economic rent is not the same as the value of the produce of the land. It is not measured by what the user can afford to pay after deducting a bare living, although under the present system of monopoly ownership rent does often leave but a subsistence profit. The economic rent (and with no land shortage there would be no other sort of rent) is the value one piece of land has in competition with others of different situation or contents ; it is what the user is willing to pay rather than go to land of inferior convenience. It is not a fixed quantity, but the result of a subtraction sum: the return to be got from the use of that site minus the return yielded by the same-sized piece of land on the margin of cultivation.

If the full land value of any site be taken in taxation, then, if the land be in most productive use, the landlord will be passing on in taxes the whole rent (or rental value) of his land. He ceases to draw any pecuniary advantage from his position as landlord, and becomes a mere rent -collector for the community.

If, however, the site be not used, or not used to full advantage, then his yearly tax will overtop the return he is getting from its present use, and he will be a loser, for he will be paying in taxation the excess in annual value of the return the site might yield over the return it actually does yield.

The only economic profit which the owner of any site could get from it under a full taxation of land values would be the user's profit ; that is, the profit which, as a tenant, he could make after paying rent; and this under such a scheme must approximate, closely and inevitably, to such profits as he could get working, without paying rent, on such land as is at that time on the margin of cultivation.

Immediate effects on land of rentable value.

It is obvious that the immediate effect of such a tax must be to bring unused and misused land of rentable value into full use. For instance, landowners would not be willing -- most would not be able -- to pay even a heavy annual tax on urban sites which, under the present system, are "ripening" at agricultural rates; and under a complete application, such speculations would lose all their charms. Owners of hitherto half-used land in town or country would sell it, or lease it, or themselves employ labour in putting it to a use which will pay the tax. Such a land-values tax imposed on landlords is analogous to a poll-tax imposed on native tribes; the native is compelled to bring himself into the labour market, the landlord to bring his land into use, so that the taxed article may pay for itself.

Idle urban and suburban land and unworked mines would be the first to respond to the pressure; because it is here that the difference is greatest between the full economic rent and the present rate that it pays.

On country land, the effects might be slower; it might be longer possible for a wealthy business man to keep his "grounds" in Surrey solely for the enjoyment of week-end visitors, and to pay the price of this luxury, as of others, out of the profits made in business ; or for the country squire to consult the demands of sport in the use to which he puts his fields. But as the indirect effects of the tax on the labour market and on employers' profits began to be felt, the owners also of country estates would find an urgent need to turn them to profitable account, or to rid themselves of the liabilities involved in possession. So that in town and country alike all locked-up land of any special value must finally be thrown open for use at decreased prices, and land which hitherto employed only the labour of a few men would find productive occupation for many times their number. The immediate result of this would, of course, be a temporary boom in trade, as there has been in those few districts where partial application of the single tax has been made - e.g. Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, etc. This would be followed by a settled and permanent activity, no longer subject to the sudden fluctuations which disturb trade and are due to speculations in monopolies. Both capital and labour would be called for to develop the territory now added to the field of industry; and the remuneration of both would instantly rise. The interest on capital would be only temporarily enhanced ; for, with the increase of production, fresh capital would be eventually formed to meet the demand, and interest again drop to normal. But the wages of labour would remain at the higher level, so long as opportunities of employment remained equal to or in excess of the number of the population.

Population does not in this age vary directly with prosperity.

And here it should be remarked, that the numbers of the population, instead of varying -- as used to be supposed by Malthus, Ricardo, and other economists -- directly with wages (and so bringing down every temporary rise again to subsistence level with the next generation of workers) show, on the contrary, a tendency to vary inversely. The age of marriage seems to rise, and the rate of fertility to decrease, as a higher standard of comfort and education makes men and women less happy-go- lucky, more fearful of changes, and more sensitive to inconvenience. There are certain savage tribes which have increased rapidly since European rule has put a stop to warfare and to cannibalism; but there is every reason for not believing that the populations of civilised countries are only limited in numbers by the amount of food. It is not, therefore, to be expected that the decreased pressure in the labour market would automatically increase itself again owing to the rise in working-class prosperity, and again restore the old unequal conditions of bargaining between master and man.

Meanwhile, the purchasing power of the actual wage would be higher, for the new land brought into use would enormously add to the total wealth produced in the country, and prices would fall. It is not only that, owing to the rise in wages, the worker would get a far higher percentage of the wealth he produces, but that this percentage, being on a larger quantity, would itself be larger.

But the effects do not stop at what would result from merely bringing this additional land into use under present conditions - increased wages, lower prices. The whole relation of social man to the land would be completely changed. Instead of it being often to an owner's interest or to his convenience to keep land idle (a tendency encouraged in England by our absurd system of rating unused land as if it were useless land), valuable land would be to its possessor a burden unless it were in full use. If unwilling or unable to develop it himself, he would be as eager to find a user for it as the hawker of perishable goods is to find a customer ; and land would be available in the market, no longer at a monopoly rent, but at a true economic rent, to anyone able to use it. It would be available, also, in a steady supply; for, obviously, it can be to no one's interest to speculate in land, and attempt to make a profit, either by holding for a rise, or by sub-letting, when all such profits pass automatically away in taxation. This permanent accessibility of land must put the whole working-class public in a new and securer position, and totally alter both their status as wage-earners and the possibilities of their whole existence.

How to deal with "marginal" land.

But, so far, the tax on land values has only been shown to bring into use such land as has a site-value measured by economic rent. It has put the landlord into the position of a tenant of the community -- a tenant paying full economic rent, and therefore induced to extract the utmost from his holding. So far, all economic rent has been secured for the community, the "water" knocked out of monopoly rents, and fresh fields of employment permanently opened to an indefinite number of workers on far more favourable terms. But this is not enough to satisfy those who desire, not merely a prosperous, but also a free society. Thus far, the tax on land values would ensure to the worker most of the fruits of his labour, as well as his share in the benefits of communalised rents. It must also give him back, in addition to his rights as a citizen of society, his individual rights as well. As we have said before, there is, amongst other more valuable landed property kept out of use, a great area, scattered all over the country, of land on the margin of cultivation, land to which there should by rights be free access, and which should afford a sanctuary for the victims of industrialism. The " marginal " line should be the Mason and Dixie line of the hired workers. This land has no economic rent at all, and much of it, under present conditions of cultivation, yields scarcely a subsistence, and nothing over for the landlord, although it is often potentially very fertile. It often does obtain high rents as sporting land or pleasure land, but these rents are not paid out of the produce, but by wealth which has been amassed elsewhere under the present system of exploitation. They are fancy, and not economic rents, and therefore do not correspond to that value which is measured by the economic needs of the community. In former days much of such land was fully cultivated by the country squires, who were obliged to get their own living from it. But with the increase of capitalists, and of business and professional men, who make their money by direct or indirect exploitation elsewhere, this land has degraded, and gone out of productive use: for such people can afford to hold it for mere privacy or pleasure, or to let it out in large grazing areas while preserving the sporting rights. This land not having any true site-value, there is some difficulty in ousting the present owners by a land-values tax; though it must be remembered all along, that when the possibility of making big profits by exploiting other land values has disappeared, this class of owner will not be so numerous. But, clearly, a tax imposed on this marginal land with the object of breaking down the monopoly and bringing it into the market, could not correspond to the non-existent site-value. It might be imposed on the fancy or sporting value, but this would be a penalising tax; it would bear no immediate relation to what the user really owed the community, and when once the land came into profitable use, it could not continue to be imposed upon small proprietors living on the produce. Such a tax on fancy rents might temporarily serve its purpose by causing the wealthy proprietors to loose their hold ; but though useful, it would hardly be defensible on the grounds of abstract justice.

Probably the simplest, as well as the most honest way, would be to cease to protect by law the private possession of such land, except in so far as it was actually occupied and improved, and then to give security of tenure for all improvements. All marginal land, not actually occupied and improved, should be as free as air for use and occupation by the first settler. This would be absolutely just as well as expedient, since every individual has in fact a natural claim to his share of such marginal land.

Free marginal land the essential of free bargaining.

It is essential that such land should be restored to the public. It is the one possibility of escape that the poorest of the population have from taskmasters. Such land should afford a refuge from the gang and the shift, from the factory and the shop, from the tyranny alike of the foreman and the trades union. On such land a man could live hardly, but live free -- an art which generations of civilisation have well- nigh extinguished. This land on the margin of cultivation, if once unlocked to the public, would be a great reservoir into which the overflow of the labour market would regularly find its way, there to make a new home, or to support existence until conditions in other trades became tolerable and desirable. Secure in occupancy, the wage slaves of modern industrialism could look their would-be employers in the face, and demand at ease and leisure far better terms than any labour committee can make for their trade now, with the hungry mass of men, women, and children, fretting at the council door, and with necessitous blacklegs creeping in at every breach. An army of organised labour can accomplish something, so long as it is universal and absolutely solid, so long as its leaders are absolutely honest and intelligent and unremittingly watchful, and provided the time of battle is short; but every day of the campaign brings fresh elements of decomposition within, if not disruption from without. But the weakest worker, who is assured at any moment of a foothold on the soil, is strong enough singly to hold his own ; and the wealthiest would-be master has no power over such an one, while and whenever he chooses to be independent. If there were a margin of free land in the country, wages of workmen everywhere would be determined, not by the difficulty of getting a job, but by the price at which they valued liberty. And as the enclosure of common lands, in the early part of the nineteenth century, was the deathblow to village industries, so, reversely, a foothold on the poorest soil would bring about again the devolution of now centralised industries, and pave the way to that integral education which should turn the specialised human tool back into a man.

One of the most important features, then, in the destruction of land monopoly is the restoring to each individual of the whole population a potential share of marginal land, secure from interference with the fruits of his labour. Moreover, as all land having a rental value came into full cultivation as the result of the land-values tax, the line of marginal land would rise to include a better quality; and therewith the comforts and conditions obtainable by the same amount of labour would rise for the masterless man, and raise the average standard all over. Under such conditions it is impossible that the exploitation of workers should continue, or that great riches should even exist, much less be able any longer to buy a position of command. Whether business and factory were conducted by syndicalist groups, or by private employers, receiving a manager's wage, the individual worker would be a free co-operator, receiving the full fruits of his labour, and able, without strife and without risk of ruin, to alter the conditions that he found onerous, or else to withdraw himself from them.


  1. On the other hand, indirectly, inasmuch as by breaking down land shortage it will increase opportunities for employment and the production of wealth, it will, indirectly, have' a double tendency both to increase wages and to reduce the prices of scarce commodities.
  2. Under present conditions, when all actual rent has a monopoly element in it, the strict economic rent would not be gauged by the actual market price but, roughly, by the difference between that and the price of average " marginal" land.


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
* *