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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 71

Chapter VII. — The Single Tax Contrasted with Land Nationalisation

Chapter VII.

The Single Tax Contrasted with Land Nationalisation.

A Great many people show how little they grasp the method of Single Taxers when they speak of them as Land Nationalises. It is quite true that the advocates of the two systems of reform have the same ultimate object in view, viz., the abolition of the private monopoly of ground rent, and its appropriation to the public benefit. But while the object aimed at is identical, the methods proposed are widely different, and the resulting conditions would present considerable contrast. The Land Nationalises seek to reach it by inducing the State to acquire the whole of the landed estate and to assume the functions of supreme landowner.

It cannot be too clearly stated that Single Taxers do not propose to acquire any land, or to interfere in any way with the titles of the present owners. Their scheme, therefore, does not, as Land Nationalisation would, involve any violent wrench to the systems of ownership transfer, or management now in vogue. It would not result in the retrograde step of denying a freehold to the many existing working proprietors; but would, on the contrary, extend its benefits, in the shape of security and certainty, to nearly all the existing tenants, by inducing landlords to sell to them.

But apart from this advantage, Single Taxers claim that their plan of actual working is much simpler—is, indeed, simplicity itself. They assert that so far from creating further officialism—as Land Nationalisation certainly would—it could be worked with a much smaller number of officers than is required under the present mixed page 10 system of taxation. They therefore contend that, being freer from official regulation, it would in actual working avoid most of the delay, uncertainty, partiality, and consequent liability to corruption, which are involved in any scheme of Land Nationalisation. If we compare the two proposals in parallel columns, we shall see that while

The Single Tax Land Nationalisation
1. Does not contemplate the acquisition of any land by the State. Proposes to acquire all land.
2. Leaves all land titles in the possession of individuals, now and in the future, and therefore leaves to them the secure enjoyment of the land, their power to sell or let it, and their right to bequeath it. It would probably lead to a great increase in the number of freeholders, by inducing most landlords to sell out to their tenants. This would result in more efficient production, by eliminating elements of insecurity. Contemplates State ownership of the land, and therefore requires that landlords, working proprietor's, and tenants, should all become tenants under the State. This would do away with the beneficial effects of ownership in the case of working proprietors, who, because of the absolute security under which they now work, are universally admitted to be the most efficient of producers. It would reduce them to the undesirable position of tenants.
3. In leaving the ownership of land to be decided, as at present, by sale, lease, or bequest, it necessarily leaves the management and agency also to the owners. Prescribes State ownership, and therefore involves State management or agency in such matters as the following:—
(a) In determining the size and boundaries of holdings.
(b) In deciding who shall occupy each holding.
(c) In fixing the rent from time to time.
((d) In settling conditions of tenancy.
(e) In controlling the cultivation, to some extent, in order to prevent the impoverishment of the land.
(f) In assessing the value of improvements as between an outgoing and an incoming tenant.
4. Involves one large and important change, viz., the extinction of the private Involves a similar levy, under the name of rent, upon all the State tenants. But as thesepage 11
monopoly of ground rent, and the appropriation of it to the public benefit. would be tenants and not owners, several additional and complicating features are involved. A tenant who was dissatisfied with a change in his rent must be allowed to throw up his tenancy. This might bring into operation most of the six difficulties detailed in the previous paragraph. Much loss of time and temper would occur in invoking the aid of officials, and the cost involved might be considerable. If Party Government was in existence, Heaven help the honest man to escape the net of wire-pulling partisans.