Land Nationalisation Society Tracts.—No. 1.
The Land Difficulty:—How shall we Deal with it?
To all who take an intelligent interest in the affairs of their own country, the land problem, as it presents itself to-day, is one of commanding urgency. With Ireland in a state of scarcely veiled rebellion, with English agriculture in a depressed, ruinous condition, with the Scotch farmers presenting a compact front and demanding reform in their land laws, the land question in truth may be said to have reached the stage of acute crisis. The situation is grave, and two things are undeniable clear. First, that there have been for a long time past natural forces at work conspiring, silently, but nevertheless surely, to lay bare the weak points—we had almost said the hideous deformities—of our land system. Second, that a remedy adequate to the occasion will have to be applied. For us who write as well as for those who read, this last point, the remedy—its thoroughness, its adequacy, the wisdom, in short, of the statesmanship involved in its application, is the one thing needful to consider. Some embarrassment arises here from the variety of panaceas already put forward, and intended to cure the evil. Peasant proprietorship, abolition of primogeniture, of entail and settlement, and, loudest of all, free trade in land—these are a few of the cries that assail our ears. Such panaceas, then, let us briefly but emphatically say, only temporise with the evil; they do not go searchingly to its root. Again, there exists a school of economists who assert that land, being property, should be dealt with like all other property, by free contract between man and man. To such a doctrine it is the object of this paper to give unqualified denial. Land, we submit, is in no sense capable of being regarded as an exchangeable commodity, but is differentiated from all other exchangeable commodities by two considerations. First, it is absolutely limited in quantity; second, it is not producible by man. It is on the land and from the land that man must live. Indeed, we affirm that private property in land is inherently unjust, and in its results evil. Abundant evidence, cogent to a degree, in support of this last assertion, is adducible. Further, we submit that the adoption of the principle here contended for—namely, to nationalise the land, vesting it for ever in the State, and to apply the rent accruing to the relief of State burdens—is the only just, logical, and permanently satisfactory basis upon which the difficulties that now confront the nation can be settled. In support of the radical position taken by the Land Nationalisation Society, we invite attention to the dicta of the following eminent thinkers:—
Adam Smith, in his "Wealth of Nations,"
"The original state of things, in which the labourer enjoyed the whole produce of his own labour, could not last beyond the first introduction of the appropriation [monopolisation] of land.
. . . . Rent makes the first deduction from the produce of labour. It is necessarily a monopoly price."
John Stuart Mill, in his "Political Economy":
"The essential principle of property being to assure to all persons what they have produced by their labour and accumulated by their abstinence, this principle cannot apply to what is not the produce of labour, the raw material of the earth." "No man made the land; it is the original inheritance of the whole species." "The land of every country belongs to the people of that country."
Herbert Spencer, in his "Social Statics:"
"Equity does not permit property in land. For if one portion of the earth's surface may justly become the possession of an individual, held for his sole use and benefit, as a thing to which he has an exclusive right, then other portions of its surface may be so held, and our planet must thus lapse into private hands. 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."
Professor F. W. Newman, writing to the Land Nationalisation Society, says:
"That the present laws of land cannot endure is certain, not only because we see them breaking down commercially, but also because they are peculiar to England. Many political economists write as if the English Land Tenure were the law of nature, normal to mankind, universal in the world. On the contrary, no colony consisting of Englishmen has such laws, nor has India, nor the American Union, nor any European State. You must go to the West Indies, where it is the legacy of slavery, to get the like of it. . . . The history of the gradual, stealthy, but really nefarious revolution, in which landlords, by their own legislative power and their influence over lawyers, changed themselves into land owners, needs to be popularised."
Henry George, in his remarkable work "Progress and Poverty," says;
"The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as page 3 their equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence . . . The recognition of individual proprietorship of land is the denial of the natural rights of other individuals; it is a wrong which must show itself in the eqitable division of wealth. For as labour cannot produce without the use of land, the denial of the equal right to the use of land is necessarily the denial of the right of labour to its own produce. If one man can command the land upon which others must labour, he can appropriate the produce of their labour as the price of his permission to labour. The fundamental law of nature that her enjoyment by man shall be consequent upon his exertion is thus violated. The one receives without producing, the others produce without receiving. The one is unjustly enriched, the others are robbed . . . . It is the continuous increase of rent—the price that labour is compelled to pay for the use of land, which strips the many of the wealth they justly earn, to pile it up in the hands of the few who do nothing to earn it."
Right Hon. Justice Longfield:
"Property in land," writes the learned judge, "differs in its origin from property in any commodity produced by human labour; the product of labour naturally belongs to the labourer who produced it, but the same argument does not apply to land, which is not produced by labour, but is the gift of the Creator of the world to mankind; every argument used to give an ethical foundation for the exclusive right of private property has a latent fallacy."
Professor John Stuart Blackie says:
"Among the many acts of baseness branding the English character in their blundering pretence of governing Ireland, not the least was the practice of confiscating the land, which by real law belonged to the people, and giving it, not to honest resident cultivators, which might have been a polite sort of theft, but to cliques of greedy and grasping oligarchs, who did nothing for the country they had appropriated but suck its blood in the name of land rent, and squander its wealth under the name of fashion and pleasure in London."
Mr. Gladstone also admits that compulsory expropriation is sound in principle. In a speech at West Calder, on November 27th, 1879, he said:
"There are some persons for whom I have a great respect, who think that the difficulties of our agriculture may be got over by a fundamental change in the land-holding system of our country. I mean those who think that if you can cut up the land of the country into a multitude of small properties, that of itself will solve the difficulty. To a proposal of that kind, I, for one, am not going to object that it would be inconsistent with the privileges of landed proprietors if it is going to be for the welfare of the community at large. The Legislature are perfectly entitled to buy up the landed proprietors for the purpose of dividing the country into small lots. In principle no objection can be taken to it. Those persons who possess large portions of the earth's space are not altogether in the same position as the possessors of mere personality. Personality does not impose limitations on the action and industry of man and the well-being of the community as possession of land does, and therefore I freely Own that compulsory expropriation is a thing which is admissible, and even sound in principle."