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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

Introduction. — "Property."

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"Doesn't thou hear my orses legs as they canters awaày?
Proputty, proputty, proputty,—that's what I 'ears 'em saày."

Tennyson's "Northern Farmer."

The idea of "property" is so all-pervading that scarcely any question of public interest can be mentioned in which it is not a most important, if not the paramount, consideration. It is evident therefore that a clear definition of what is meant by "property "must be an indispensable preliminary to any rational discussion in which the idea of property is involved, and yet at the present time there is no question on which there is greater difference of opinion. In fact, thanks to legal phraseology, backed by our own ignorance and perversity, we have come to speak of "land" as the only "real" property regardless of the fact that every foot of "land" is an integral part of the solar system; that no man can make it, destroy it, or do without it, any more than he can do without" the air] How then can it be the "property" of—or "proper" in the sense of absolute ownerships to any man? Man's' "property" is, first, his own person, and secondly, the things which man's labour produces. Those may include every conecivable form of wealth honestly acquired; it otherwise acquired our Courts of Law are popularly supposed to be mainly concerned with its restitution to its rightful owner.

But to claim "property" in the earth itself is quite another matter, Labour and Land are the sole factors of wealthy mere, "ownership" of land produces nothing-, and is therefore morally and equitably worth nothing and entitled to nothing, but under present arrangements, legal ownership of land carries with it the power of appropriating the property of others, and this is the only measure of its so-called "value." We all know how this appropriation of the property of others is legally carried out; how the amount that is thus appropriated varies with every advantage of position and character of soil, and how when once the monopoly of the land of any country is complete, the inhabitants are taxed to the utmost bounds of endurance by the "owners" of the soil. This tax is the "ground rent" of the country; it is created afresh every year by the collective industry of the inhabitants, and is as absolutely their collective "property" as any separate article is the separate property of the individual producer. The land "owner" not only contributes absolutely nothing to this collective value, but, by creating a false and luxurious standard of living, based on immoral and unearned wealth,—by absenteeism abstracting the substance of the nation to expend in haunts of European luxury,—by confounding our ideas of justice and of right and wrong, and by checking industry page 2 on the one hand, and diverting it into undesirable channels on the other, the land "owner," more than any other man, is responsible for the poverty and misery of the people. These considerations are causing the universal "audit" of the landlord's claim which is now in progress thronghout the world. The indictment of landlordism which is gradually being formulated will ultimately shape itself into the charge, that so called "property" in land confers the power of appropriating, the property of others without giving any equivalent, and that consequently it "immoral and unjust.

When we consider the magnitude of the interests involved, and that the fundamental iniquity of private appropriation of "ground-rent" has the sanction of long established custom and the support of accumulated wealth, it is not surprising that we find determined opposition to any change; and all the forces of "vested-interests" arrayed to oppose reform. We must also admit that our opponents are, in some cases, honestly of opinion that the landowner's claim to ground-rent is Just; that, for instance, Dr Laishley can really see no difference between the Capital which is invested in "land" and that which is iniested in "houses"—that Mr W. F. Buckland is honestly unable to distinguish between "land-value" and "labour-value," and that any such talk appears to him, as he expresses it—"all bosh"—and that Mr Ewington is even prepared to claim for the modern commercial landlord the Ægis of Divine authority! We regret however that we can only acquit these gentlemen of insincerity at the cost of a proportionate reduction in our estimate of their reasoning powers, and hope that ultimately the arguments that are daily converting others will have their due effect on them also. We should be glad if we could place as charitable a construction on the attitude assumed by the "N. Z. Herald," but when we consider that the conductors of that paper have been familiar with all the phases of the "land question" for years, that they well know the inner meaning of "booms"—Land Syndicates—and Globo Assets Companies, and that as far back as January 1879 a Herald "leader" on the land-tax then introduced by Sir George Grey's Government concluded with these words—"There need be no hope that any turn of the political wheel will have the effect of shaking off this land-tax The first step has been taken in the taxation of landed property, not before it was time, (italics ours) and there is no chance of going back"—although in fact within "year and day" the political wheel was reversed by the machinations of the land monopolists. Sir George Grey's efforts for justice were frustrated—and a dreary decade of land-booms, globo-syndicates, depression, and exodus, inflicted on this country; we say when we consider all this, and find that the Herald is not ashamed to vilify and misrepresent in every possible way, both the principle of land-taxation, and those who advocate it, we feel that no words could adequately characterise its reprehensible duplicity. Doubtless it will find 'ere long that it has underrated the intelligence of its readers and has played the part of "devils'-advocate" with too much zeal; and the prospect of the able editor vainly seeking a place of repentance must serve to moderate our indignation at his present line of conduct, in the meantime the Anti-Poverty Society accepts the duty of exposing his misrepresentations and of keeping the facts of the land-question before the public, and with that view we recently asked Mr Withy to permit us to publish the admirable series of letters in which he recently stated the case for land-reform. He readily consented and we have great pleasure in presenting the letters, as revised by Mr Withy for this pamphlet To us it seems that the case could not be stated more clearly or more-temperately.

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We also reproduce a brief and vigorous article from the Westminster Review which will serve to emphasise our contention that "land" is not "property" in the ordinary sense of the word, and that the much-vaunted freehold-tenure is a delusion under which men are induced to take the shadow for the substance. There is no phrase more misleading, than this famous one of "freehold-tenure," and it is quite natural that the National Association should seize upon it as a "talismanic-word" with which to do their conjuring, and make their dupes imagine that they are contending for "National" rights, while they forge the fetters that are to bind them and their children forever to maintain the few, What they really contend for is the power of holding land for an immoral purpose; for the power of levying perpetual and increasing tribute on the labour of others without acknowledging any duty in return, and thus establishing a worse than feudal tyranny, A well known Queen-street gentleman recently remarked, "Oh yes, your theory is right enough, but,—what should we do for investments?" and that is the whole secret of the National Association's zeal for "freehold" tenure—they are fighting the battle of the owner and the mortgagee and in that struggle no consideration of justice or humanity can ever enter, while to speak of it as in any sense "national" is simply ludicrous, nothing but the single-tax or Socialism can ever deal with the "land" from a "national" point of view.

One of the finest flowers of modern civilization produced on National Associations principles, is the present commercial Duke of Marlborough who has lately been travelling in America in search of "freehold" investments and who writes in the New York Herald for the benefit of his class, after warning his friends not to trust too much to investments in Manufactures, Breweries, Waterworks, and similar enterprises, he writes—" The real value of America is in "real estate"—Breweries and Grain Elevators vanish, but real estate remains. It is in this real estate that the future unearned increment of value lies. Here you have an Anglo-Saxon race of sixty millions of people who work like beavers, developing your property, and adding to its value every day, if you own real estate investments; and this is far better property than Buenos Ay res Water Works, or Argentine Great Western, or even Buenos Ayres Great Southern Railways, where there is nothing in the way of population except a few million slow-going Spaniards and Italians!—We commend this quotation to our friends of the "National" Association. The Duke is evidently a shrewd, far-seeing, practical man, and would make an excellent honorary President for their Association,—"So English, you know," and so "National" too I and perfectly "sound on the goose."

For the Anti-Poverty Society.

Adam Kelly

, Vice-President.

F. G. Platt

, Hon. Sec.