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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 71

Chapter XII. — The Existing Central Fault is "Private" Monopolisation of Ground Rent

Chapter XII.

The Existing Central Fault is "Private" Monopolisation of Ground Rent.

In examining the present system it is important, as a preliminary, to take notice of a certain preference which is shown by mankind, and of a special limitation which is imposed upon them. Roth of these appear likely to continue in the future, whatever laws we may make for the purpose of determining our social relations. These facts must be taken into account by us if we would frame our regulations successfully.

The preference which is exhibited for the most part by men in all ages is to come together in communities rather than to isolate themselves. The limitation is that the area of the earth is a fixed quantity, while our nice has been, and appears likely to continue to be, an ever increasing one.

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An advantage which has always been observed to result from the clustering of individuals is that it has, by rendering combined action possible, led to a greater increase of mutual conveniences and to a larger accumulation of wealth than were possible without it. A consequence of these two facts is that certain portions of the earth's surface are continually sought after with an increasing eagerness, and this is especially noticeable with regard to certain centres in the territory of the English-speaking nations.

It appears to land reformers generally that this preference and this limitation have been largely overlooked by the people, and either overlooked, or intentionally ignored, by their legislators. The result of overlooking such important facts has been most disastrous. If mankind had not desired to congregate in tribes and nations, and to form villages, towns, and cities, but if, on the contrary, they had reared their flocks and tilled the ground at a distance from each other, land would scarcely for ages yet have acquired any annual value. Near neighbourhood enables each one to exchange his day's produce with whatever he desires of his neighbours' day's produce, with less loss of time than if they were widely separated. Hence one of the advantages of living in "neighbour-row," and hence the willingness of each to pay more for such a location than for a remote one. The landlord enjoys this advantage as fully as any of his neighbours do, but he contributes nothing to his neighbours in return for it. On the other hand, he and his class, by inheritance or by purchase amongst themselves, reap all the payment which their landless neighbours are willing to make for the advantages of neighbourhood. They traffic in the needs and desires of their fellows, and make them no return, but simply take payment to stand aside. It is owing to the advantageous experience acquired by association that labour has come to be so much subdivided into departments. It is pretty certain that the increase of production per head, which has by these means been achieved, has led to the Anglo-Saxon race multiplying as fast as it has done during this century. Finally, it is undoubtedly due to these several facts that ground rent has advanced so rapidly in England and her colonies.

The central fault of the present system must unhesitatingly be affirmed to be the private monopolisation of this ground rent. The desires and necessities of mankind have offered a tempting bait to capitalists to move in advance of settlement, and to forestall the chances of their fellows. No system of land tenure, no free sale of land, no peasant proprietorship, no village settlement scheme, no "eternal" leases or State farms, no improvement conditions, or any method of regulation can possibly be effective as long as the owning of land carries with it the ground rent—and its future growth—as the perquisite of the owner. As long as any nation is prepared to allow this unconditioned traffic in its birthright—a traffic possible only to those who have the means at hand—so long will they entail upon themselves and their posterity the disabilities under which we have long suffered, and which grow more acute as population becomes denser.

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When considered in the light of the preceding paragraph, the recent action of the New Zealand Parliament in granting leases for 999 years at a rental of 4 per cent. per annum upon the present selling value of the land, without any periodical revaluation, appears to be most extraordinary. This hands over to the lessee and his heirs, for ten centuries to come, the future possible growth of the ground rent of his leasehold. Additional roads may pass some of these holdings, railroads may form junctions near them, a village, a township, or a city may be formed alongside or upon them, and there is not a line in the Land Act to prevent these thirty generations of holders from reaping this unearned annual increment. A better scheme for granting privilege, a surer way of creating monopolists out of a chance selection from amongst these "eternal" leaseholders, could not well be conceived. They are not even compelled to buy the privilege; it is given to them. Yet this has been done by the political party which is the one most advanced in its ideas of land reform!