Voluntary Socialism

A SKETCH (1896)

by Francis Dashwood Tandy (1867-1913)

Chapter IX.

Free Land.

VS-9.1 The questions of land and rent have received so much attention lately, that much of this chapter will appear to be very trite to anyone familiar with recent economic literature. For example, even college professors admit – and they seldom admit any truth until it is old enough to become a lie, as Ibsen says [Online editor’s note: Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), in his 1882 play Enemy of the People, Act IV; Ibsen was a favourite of the Liberty circle. – RTL] – even they admit that land differs from wealth in three essential particulars:
VS-9.2 1. All wealth is the product of labor, while land existed before wealth was possible, and may continue to exist long after all forms of life are extinct.
VS-9.3 2. Land is absolutely essential to our existence, for without it we could have no place to live nor any opportunity to produce anything to sustain life. But wealth, being the product of labor, cannot be essential to our existence, since life must have existed previous to its production.
VS-9.4 3. Land is absolutely stationary, while all forms of wealth are movable.
VS-9.5 It is necessary to restate these facts in order to make what follows more intelligible. Since wealth and land are so essentially different, it is to be expected that property in the one is entirely different from property in the other. All wealth equitably belongs to the person who creates it. It is his to use or not to use, to consume in any manner he sees fit, to exchange for other property, to give away if he so desire, or to waste absolutely if the fancy strikes him. He has created it by his labor. He has embodied in it a certain portion of his time and energy, in short, his life. It is his because it is actually of him. But with land this is entirely different. No one has made any portion of it. No one has expended any vitality upon its creation. So no one is entitled to any property right to it, For if one portion of the earth’s surface may justly become the absolute possession of an individual, and may be owned by him for his sole use and benefit, as a thing to which he has an absolute and exclusive right, then other portions of the earth’s surface may be so owned; and eventually the whole of the earth’s surface may be so owned; and our planet may thus lapse altogether into private hands. Observe now the dilemma to which this leads. Supposing the entire habitable globe to be so inclosed, it follows that if the landowners have a valid right to its surface, all who are not landowners have no right at all to its surface. Hence, such can exist on the earth by sufferance only. They are all trespassers. Save by permission of the lords of the soil, they can have no room for the soles of their feet. Nay, should the others think fit to deny them a resting place, these landless men might equitably be expelled from the earth altogether. If, then, the assumption that land can be held as property, involves that the whole globe may become the private domain of a part of its inhabitants; and if, by consequence, the rest of its inhabitants can then exercise their faculties – can then exist even – only consent of the landowners; it is manifest that an absolute ownership of the soil necessitates an infringement of the law of equal freedom. For men who cannot “live and move and have their being” [Online editor’s note: St. Paul in Acts 17:28, in turn paraphrasing the hymn to Zeus in Epimenides’ Cretica. – RTL] without the leave of others, cannot be equally free with those others.1
VS-9.6 A good example of the tyranny that may be exercised by landed proprietors is found in Greeley, Colo. By a clause in the titles to all the land on which this town is situated, it reverts to the heirs of the original owners if any intoxicating liquor is sold upon it. By the fact of his proprietary right to the soil, the landowner is able to force his will – whether it be good or bad is immaterial – upon all who shall live upon it for all time. Once grant a man a title to the absolute ownership of land, and you deprive everyone else the right to object to any condition he may make before permitting others to use it.
VS-9.7 While there is considerable land in the world which is not yet owned by anyone, all the best land is certainly monopolized, as is also nearly all that is capable of affording a comfortable living. This being the case, the holders of land are able to collect rent from all the non-landowning classes. This rent is only limited by the difference between the value of the product of the land each individual occupies, and the value of that which could be produced with the same amount of labor on the best land not yet held by anyone. For example, A can, with a certain amount of labor, produce 100 bushels of wheat per acre upon a certain piece of land. But that piece of land is owned by B. All land capable of yielding over 10 bushels per acre is held by someone else. The only alternative that A has is, to either take up land capable of yielding but 10 bushels per acre, or else pay B, or some other landlord, whatever he demands for the use of his land. If B asks more than 90 bushels per acre, A will pursue the former course, if less, the latter. As B will wish to get all he can, he will not rent his land for much less than 90 bushels, so that will be approximately the rent of the land.
VS-9.8 It must not be inferred that the agricultural product of land is the only factor to be considered in in estimating the productivity of the soil. In reality it is but a very small factor. The possibility of a mineral or other output has to be taken into consideration. But probably the greatest factor of all is location. It is easy to see, that if A’s land is capable of producing 100 bushels of wheat per acre, and B’s land is only capable of producing 90 bushels, A’s land is ten per cent. more valuable than B’s. But if it cost B the value of 10 bushels to haul his 90 bushels of wheat to market, and it cost A 28 bushels to haul his 100 bushels, the net productivity of A’s land is only 72 bushels, while that of B’s is 80. In other words, while A’s land is ten per cent. more fertile than B’s, yet B’s land, owing to location, is ten per cent. more valuable than A’s.
VS-9.9 So likewise in other forms of industry. A few acres of land, so situated as to be suitable for a manufactory, may be 100 times as valuable as other land which Is only suitable for agriculture, though this latter tract may be extremely fertile, while the former Is little more than a barren rock. Other land, again, may be so situated as to be suitable for a large business block, filled with offices, and so afford space for the application of the labor of several hundred men. It will necessarily be more valuable than the same area of agricultural land, which would scarce suffice for the support of one.
VS-9.10 Owing partly to the spirit of adventure, partly to a desire for possession, and partly to the damands [sic] of landlords for higher rent, poorer and poorer land is being pressed into service. It is difficult to appreciate the full extent to which this is carried; until we consider the vast areas of the most productive land which is held out of use. Owing to its location, the land in large cities is infinitely more productive than any farming land, yet see how much of it is held out of use, even in densely settled cities. Thus, while the landlord cannot actually dictate his own terms to those who own no land, he can, owing to the comparatively small margin of unmonopolized land, demand the greater part of the product of the toil of those who use it, and impose many onerous conditions upon them. So the present system of land tenure is inconsistent with the cost principle. The means by which the present owners obtained possession is immaterial. The system is inequitable and inimical to progress, and must be abolished. What care we for the howl about the rights of property, unless it can be shown that the proprietary right has been granted by the producer of the property? When the holders of land can produce such a title I will respect it, but not till then. It may not be out of place, however, to review briefly the history of property in land.
VS-9.11 Very many different systems of land tenure seem to have been in vogue among primitive peoples. Where hunting was the means of support of the tribe, the land was held in common. In pastoral tribes the same system was probably in vogue. With the development of agriculture, a tenancy in usufruct seems to have been most widely adopted. And so on. Nowhere among uncivilized tribes do we find any trace of the payment of rent. That is one of the proofs that they were uncivilized!
VS-9.12 Most primitive tribes were extremely warlike, and those who were not were soon exterminated by their more bellicose neighbors. In these times it was usual for the victors to kill all their prisoners and eat them. As a more advanced stage was reached and agriculture became of some importance, it was discovered that a live man was worth more than a dead one. The body of an enemy was capable of affording his conqueror one or two good orgies, but his labor would help to provide food as long as he a lived. The savage found it to his advantage to spare the life of his enemy in order to make him a slave.
VS-9.13 With the primitive means of production at the disposal of man in those days, a point was soon reached, at which the further application of labor to land did not produce sufficient to support the laborers; in other words, the land soon became overpopulated. Then our early ancestors found it inadvisable to own more slaves. Now it became more advantageous to the conquerors, to let the conquered retain possession of their land, on condition that they paid tribute. But this necessitated excursions at regular intervals to collect this tribute by force of arms, and so a system of dividing the soil of a conquered country among the conquerors became more economical. This gradually developed into the Feudal System, and it was not till that system decayed that rent and taxes became differentiated. Up to that point both were the same. The owners of the soil were merely collectors of taxes, who set an example to modern politicians, to hand over to the public treasury as little as possible.
VS-9.14 It is no exaggeration to say that rent is a form of slavery. It is even a form of cannibalism. An improvement on cannibalism, to be sure, but an improvement primarily from the standpoint of the cannibal. (And the same may be said of taxes.) Whether the present system of land tenure is regarded from the standpoint of ethics, economics or history, it stands unqualifiedly condemned.
VS-9.15 While all idea of property (that is, absolute ownership) in land is unjustifiable, some system of land tenure must he adopted. To say that no man shall use land, is to say that no man shall live. So we are forced to accept the opposite proposition, namely, all men may use land. But no man should possess an absolute property right in land. Consequently, men should be protected in the possession of land only so long as they are occupying and using it. In other words, bona fide occupancy and use should be the sole title to land. That such a system is in accord with the teachings of history is shown by Letourneau [Online editor’s note: French sociologist Charles-Jean Letourneau (1831-1902), author of Sociology Based Upon Ethnography (1892). – RTL], who says: “The ancient system of holding property has died because of its tyrannical character, and the general civilization has progressed because of the degree of liberty granted to each individual. But individual liberty cannot degenerate into an inherited privilege. A reaction is therefore probable. In fully maintaining individual liberty this reaction will probably bring us back, slowly and by means of a series of graduated measures, to a life interest usufruct of land, thus rewarding intelligence and useful work, and also the labor given.” (Sociology, p. 439.)
VS-9.16 Some gentlemen with tender consciences defend the present land system, because, they allege, any change would necessitate injustice. It is argued that all improvements on land belong to the present owners, and it would be wrong to rob them of their property; that it is impossible to dispossess them of the land and leave the improvements, therefore, we must leave them both. But what care we about these fine shades of justice? The admission that exclusive ownership to land is unjust, places the landlords among the robber class. Why need we be so punctilious about their feelings? If progress demands the abolition of the present land system, is not that sufficient? Must the development of the whole human race be retarded for fear of doing a little injustice to a class of robbers? But we are governed, as the Editor of “Egoism” says, by “a majority that rules without voting – The silent majority of the graveyard. The dead past rules us with an rron hand. Its creeds, laws, monopolies, customs, tastes, conceptions and prejudices are the tyrants of our time. ... We are the slaves of the ghosts of dry bones and dust.” (Egoism, Vol. 1, No. 4.) [Online editor’s note: Perhaps American egoist-anarchist and sometime contributor to Liberty James L. Walker (1845-1904), who wrote under the pseudonym “Tak Kak” (a Russian conjunction meaning “because” or “since”), and who published his Philosophy of Egoism serially in Egoism, though the publishers were Georgia and Henry Replogle and so Tandy may be referring to one of them. – RTL] So perhaps it is worth while to consider this objection more fully.
VS-9.17 Spencer states the case as follows: “We must admit that all which can be claimed for the community is the surface of the country in its original unsubdued state. To all that value given to it by clearing, breaking up, prolonged culture, fencing, draining, making roads, farm buildings, etc., constituting nearly all its value, the community has no claim. This value has been given either by personal labor, or by labor paid for, or by ancestral labor; or else the value given to it in such ways has been purchased by legitimately earned money. All this value artificially given vests in existing owners, and cannot without a gigantic robbery be taken from them.” (Justice, pp. 91-92.) In an appendix to the same work (p. 269), he goes on to show, that since A. D. 1601, the landlords of England and Wales have paid out in poor rates, etc., about £500,000,000 or $2,400,000,000. From this, he argues, “it is manifest that against the claim of the landless may be set off a large claim of the landed – perhaps a larger claim.”
VS-9.18 These landlords have had control of the land all these centuries. During that time they have impoverished the soil. They have lived off the product of other men’s labor. They have done but little to benefit the human race. And they have, in most cases, ground their tenants and laborers into poverty. Are not these factors to be considered also? Every cent that has been invested in improvements, every cent that has been paid in rates and taxes, and nearly every cent that the landlords have spent upon themselves has been taken by means of rent from the producers of wealth, except that which has been derived from the same source by means of interest. Do you wish to go back to the past, gentlemen? If so we will submit a bill for back rent, and, since you believe in interest, we will compute compound interest on the money. You will find that it would be cheaper to submit to our demands in the first place and “let the dead past bury its dead.” [Online editor’s note: A reference to a line in “A Psalm of Life” (1838) by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), in turn paraphrasing Matthew 8:22 and Luke 9:60. – RTL]
VS-9.19 While these arguments deal principally with landholding in England, they apply with equal force to America. Here the improvements have been largely bought with interest instead of with rent – that is all the difference. A few cases of men saving their wages and investing in and improving real estate are to be found. In most of such cases, however, the investors have simply built homes for themselves. As they occupy and use this land, they would remain in unmolested possession of it under the system here advocated. For the few others, who have invested their hard earned saving with a view to getting back a portion of the plunder, I am heartily sorry. But they have placed themselves among the robber class and they must expect to share their fate. But even so, they would not be badly off. The increase in wages, which would result from throwing open the land, would go far to repay them for the loss of rent.
VS-9.20 No doubt the abolition of slavery was very hard on a number of slave owners, but that was as nothing when compared with the misery the slaves had endured. So with the modern form of slavery, it must be abolished, even if it prove inconsistent [Online editor’s note: Does Tandy mean “inconvenient”? – RTL] to those who are accustomed to live off the toil of others. Every change involves hardship on some class. We are fortunate indeed if that hardship falls solely upon those who have reaped the benefit of the previous injustice.
VS-9.21 The most serious objection to the occupancy and use system is that it does not produce equality of opportunity. Land being of different value, those who occupy the most valuable will be able to obtain a greater reward for their labor than will those who occupy poorer land. This criticism is very just indeed. If any other system can be devised, which will remove this difficulty without rushing into greater evils, I for one will most heartily advocate it.
VS-9.22 The only way by which it is proposed to remedy this defect is by same form of State ownership, either by actual State control of the land, or by the method known as the Single Tax. The former method involves the direct use of the land by the State, and, consequently, a complete system of State Socialism and compulsory co-operation. It is unnecessary to combat this idea here. This whole book is, by implication, directly opposed to such a system. If its arguments have made no such impression on the reader’s mind, it has been written in vain and nothing I could say in a short space here would help matters.
VS-9.23 The Single Tax is the theory that the State should collect the full rental value of all land, and should spend it, or rather such portion of it as may be left after paying current expenses, for the benefit of the people. The method of assessment suggested is that that the land shall be rented to the highest bidder, and if, after he has occupied it awhile, another is willing to pay more than the original tenant, he shall be entitled to rent the land at the advanced rate. This is the fairest way of determining the value of the land, as it throws the whole matter open to competition. I will go even further; it is the only possible way of determining the value of the land under such conditions. If the State collects the full rental value, no one will have any object in buying or selling land. In the absence of sales there would be nothing to guide a board of assessors in determining the value of the land. Any assessments they might make, with absolutely nothing to guide them in their endeavors, would be more absurdly grotesque than anything the State has ever yet attempted. [Online editor’s note: Tandy here seems to anticipate the central idea of Mises’s calculation argument. – RTL]
VS-9.24 This theory plunges us into evils far greater than those involved in the occupancy and use system. It leaves the collection and disbursement of all this vast sum of money to our corrupt State officials. The Single Taxer will deny this. He argues that under correct economic conditions, all men will be honest. But he proposes to make the change now, and it is absurd to suppose that men will become honest in anticipation of equitable economic conditions. The most he can claim is, that after equitable economic conditions are established, men will become honest. Meanwhile the politicians will have collected at least the first installment of rent. Their friends will fill all the offices created to spend the surplus for the benefit of the people – in operating railways, telegraphs, waterworks, electric plants, street car lines, etc. They will have intrenched themselves behind this army of officeholders, so that it will be impossible to dislodge them. They will then find it no hard task to devise means, whereby they may lire at the public expense without performing any adequate service in return. Men will not become too honest to live off the toil of others, until it becomes more difficult to do so than to work for a living for themselves. These remarks are applicable to any method of spending the surplus that may be devised. But I doubt if my serious difficulty would arise on this account. After the funds had once passed into the hands of the politicians, there would be mighty little surplus left for any purpose whatsoever.
VS-9.25 But supposing the politicians are honest, we are still no nearer the solution of our difficulties. The Single Tax is based upon the idea that no man has any right to hold property in land. From thls premise, the conclusion is deduced that all men (i. e., Society) have a property right to land. The new form of syllogism which warrants such reasoning will, no doubt, be propounded in a forthcoming criticism of Mill by Henry George, entitled “A Perplexed Logician.” [Online editor’s note: George’s critique of Spencer was titled A Perplexed Philosopher; Mill, as the author of A System of Logic, is here a stand-in for logicians in general. – RTL] So we will submit for the present to his conclusion that all men have a right to property in land. From this it follows that each man has a right to an equal share of the rent of all the land of the world, and to spend one penny of any one man’s share without his free consent, even though he be in a minority of one, is a violation of the first condition of liberty.
VS-9.26 Insurmountable as these difficulties appear, they are insignificant when compared with the next. A has rented a piece of land, let us my, for $200 per year. He has made improvements on it to the value of $1,000. Now B comes along and offers $250 per year for the same land. The Single Taxer would say that if A was not willing to pay $250 per year, he must vacate the land, but that B must pay him for the improvements. B says, “They are not the kind of improvements I want. I need the land, not the improvements.” All these difficulties the Single Taxer would submit to a board of assessors. Now mark the result. If this board places the price high enough to be fair to A, they compel B either to purchase that which he does not want, or to relinquish his claim to the land. If they fix the price so as to be fair to B, A is cheated out of part of the value of his property. In any event A will be compelled to sell his property, whether he wishes to do so or not, and B will be compelled to buy the same, regardless of whether it will be of any use to him. If he does not wish to do this, he will have to relinquish his equal right to the land A is occupying, and the community will lose $50 rent per annum. No one can expatiate more eloquently than Single Taxers upon the difficulty of assessing the value of personal property, when the assessment is made in order to levy a tax. And no one places more implicit confidence in the infallibility of such an assessment, when the owner of the property is to be compelled to sell his belongings at the assessed valuation. The very possibility of such uncertainty in regard to the permanency of the tenure is sufficient to deter any man from improving his land to any great extent. “Give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock,” said Arthur Young, “and he will turn it into a garden.” [Online editor’s note: English agricultural economist Arthur Young (1741-1820), in Travels in France (1794). – RTL] The converse is equally true. Deprive a man of that security of possession, and he will let a garden become as barren as a rock. These arguments are valid, no matter what system of assessing the value of the land and improvements may be adopted. Schemes may be devised to avoid them, but the same difficulties will recur in one form or another, for they take their root in the essential nature of the Single Tax.
VS-9.27 This theory, then, is radically inconsistent with Equal Freedom. It enables the politicians to live off the toil of others. It is absurdly illogical. It denies a man an absolute title to the product of his toil in the form of improvements on land. And, providing no security of tenure, it offers no incentive to economy or thrift in the use of the land. Surely this is too high a price to pay for absolute equality of opportunity.
VS-9.28 The inequality of opportunity, so much feared by the opponents of the occupancy and use system, would not be nearly as great as would appear at first sight. Under free conditions economic rent, that is, the rent which would attach to land in the absence of monopoly, is all that would remain. And this economic rent would not be a tax upon the wealth produced by another. It would merely be the advantage which one man would have over another, owing to the greater productive power of the land he occupied. Just as one man is able to perform certain kinds of labor with greater ease than other men, some men would be so situated on land, that they could produce more with lees exertion than could their less fortunate brethren. In one case the advantage is due to the economic rent on land, in the other, to the economic rent on intellect, if I may use the expression.
VS-9.29 The economic rent on land is but a small portion of that paid to-day. If occupancy and use were the sole titles to land, the large tracts of valuable land now held out of use would immediately be occupied and the poorer land would be abandoned. We have seen that the rent on any piece of land depends upon the difference between the productivity of that land and the productivity of the best land not yet taken up. Consequently as better and better land is abandoned, rent is reduced. To quote the example given above; if the best available land is only capable of producing 10 bushels of wheat per acre, and the land B has for rent is capable of yielding 100 bushels per acre, the rent on B’s land will be approximately 90 bushels. But if, owing to the relinquishment of all unoccupied land, no land is held which is incapable of yielding more than 60 bushels, B’s land will only be worth 40 bushels. When the quality, as well as the quantity, of land now held out of use is considered, we begin to realize how small a fraction of rent, economic rent really forms.
VS-9.30 Under free conditions, even this economic rent would have a perpetual tendency to grow “smaller by degrees and beautifully less.” [Online editor’s note: An expression in frequent use in the late 19th century, but I have not yet discovered its source. – RTL] Owing to the inequalities of the present social system, there is a tendency for population to concentrate in large cities. This naturally increases the rent of the city property and decreases that of agricultural soil, etc. With the establishment of the cost principle, the farmer, the miner and all engaged in rural occupations will be able to earn as much as those who work in cities. So a more even distribution of population is to be expected. Similar force will be at work in other directions. Free competition will insure each piece of land being put to its most productive use. Freedom of exchange will cause greater facilities for working the poorer land. The means of transportation not being monopolized but extended beyond their present territory, the distant land will be more accessible. These are some of the forces which will be at work to equalize the value of different tracts of land, and so reduce economic rent to a minimum. In fact, so small would it ultimately become, that it need hardly be considered in our calculations at all.
VS-9.31 The only other objection to the occupancy and use system that is worthy of consideration, is the difficulty of determining whether a piece of land is in use or not. Is a man using a corner lot in a city when he has lumber piled upon it? Is he using it when he has some old tomato cans piled in a corner? Questions like these are asked on all sides. The only answer to them is that they cannot well be settled beforehand, as we have not sufficient data on which to base a conclusion. All such difficulties and disputes will have to be settled as all other disputes are, amicably if possible, if not by an appeal to the courts. Under our present absurd judiciary system, some rigid rule might be necessary. For instance, the court might rule that a residence can occupy a tract of land 100x150 feet, a store the same area, a factory 300x150 feet, and so on. As we get enlightened and an equitable jury system is established, the matter will present even fewer difficulties. Twelve men, familiar with the land under dispute and with a full knowledge of the facts of the case, would seldom find it difficult to settle such difficulties.
VS-9.32 This difficulty is greatly overestimated. To-day nearly all occupied land is fenced in, and the boundaries are well marked and recorded. It is no very difficult task to tell how much land a man’s house is occupying. Why such difficulties should suddenly increase under an occupancy and use system, is not apparent. This objection, like its predecessors, is seen to be almost infinitesimal when it is carefully examined.
VS-9.33 Until some other system can be devised, which is free from all these objections, occupancy and use must be considered the only equitable and legitimate title to land.

VS-9.n1.1 1 To avoid a possible charge of plagiarism, it is necessary to state that much of this paragraph has been copied, with a few alterations, from Chapter IX. of Social Statics (First Ed.), which Mr. Spencer has lately repudiated. It is not printed in quotation marks, because of the alterations which I have made.

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