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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Chapter IV. — The Shopkeeper

page 15

Chapter IV.

The Shopkeeper.

The next petitioner, from whom I learnt that he was a small shopkeeper in Cheapside, was much agitated, and bore a worried look.

"Sir," he said, in a trembling voice, "I hope you will relax your sternness a little in my case. I am hard hit. I am a hard-working, honest man, and have been all my life. After fighting the battle for life for so many weary years, I have at last succeeded in scraping enough together to buy a small piece Of land and build a house on it. What am I to do now?"

"Why, keep it, good sir, and make the best of it."

My answer seemed to electrify the man into life again.

"Then you are not going to take it from me?" he inquired eagerly.

"Certainly not. I could not if I would. The Constitution would not allow me."

"But I understood that you were to confiscate all the land."

"You mean, perhaps, nationalize?"

"Well, is not that the same thing?"

"No, not by a long way. To confiscate means to take away. But the object of the Constitution is not to take the land from the people, but to open it up to them, since without access to it they cannot live—save, of course, by permission, and on the terms of those who can debar them from it."

"And—and—has everybody a right to it now?"

"Yes; everybody has an equal right with yourself to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and therefore to the means of life, that is, the land and the elements of Nature."

"Then anybody might come and turn me off the land—out of my home?"

"Oh, no. No one can do that so long as you care to stay. You are only expected to share with the others the advantages that accrue to you from the exclusive possession of that particular spot; and in return, all the other people have to share with you whatever similar advantages they may enjoy by monopolizing portions of the country."

"And how are you going to adjust what I am to give and what I am to receive in return?"

page 16

"Very easily. Whatever the rental value of your plot of land may be, is the measure of the advantages you enjoy to the exclusion of all others. Therefore you will be required to hard over to the State a sum equal thereto. That is, you will pay a tax of twenty shillings in the pound on the unimproved value of your land. Others will do the same, and thus provide the funds necessary for public purposes. Your returns will consist in the enjoyment of those conveniences which the money will provide."

"If you tax my land to its full value, is it not the same as if you took it away?"

"Certainly not. You can still use it the same as before, But if I took it away you could not."

"But is not its value gone?"

"Surely not its utility. You can live on it, trade on it, and grow on it whatever it could yield, as before. These values it will still possess undiminished, and yours will be the exclusive right to enjoy them so long as you pay the tax—or rent."

He shook his head a You leave me in possession of the land, certainly, but you tax me, and that heavily."

"No more than what you receive in return. And not so much, I think, as you paid formerly for less. You are a business man. Let me put a few common-sense questions to you. Suppose you sold goods to a customer of yours and sent them home by another man's cart, would you claim the money for the cartage as well as for the goods?"

"The cartage money would go, of course, to the man to whom the cart belongs."

"Twenty shillings in the pound?"

"Of course."

"That is precisely your case. If you withhold portions of the country, with all its natural advantages, from your fellow-citizens, you have to pay to them for the privilege; while what-ever you create on the land by your toil is yours. Others have to do the same. Those who would contribute less must be content with monopolizing less. Everybody is treated alike, and each has to pay, not according to what he possesses, but according to value received "

"I do not dispute the correctness or even the justice of your principles," he said with a sigh, "but it falls heavily on me. You see, sir, I have bought my land with honest, hard-earned money, and now am as good as losing it—every penny."

"What is the value of your land?"

"I paid for it £240. It is assessed now at an annual value of £10.

"Then your taxes will amount to £10. Have you not paid as much before?"

"No, certainly not. My tax did not amount to more than nine shillings."

page 17

"Yes, the land tax. But I mean altogether, taxes and rates. Surely you have paid as much before?"

"Oh, altogether, I have paid, let me see—inhabited house duty, 10s.; property tax I believe as much; and rates and poor law, £15; that is about £16."

"And on your shop—is that your own too?"

"I have built it, but it's mine only for another eighty years."

"What rates and taxes did you pay for that?"

"About £60. It is assessed at £300 per annum."


"That's not much, something like £6."

"Stamp duties on cheques and receipts?"

"Say two shillings a week."

"Customs duties on tea, coffee, currants, etc.?

"Yes. I dare say it comes to something like £4 a year, although I neither smoke nor drink. But I have six children, and they make up for it in tea and currants."

"Let us see now. You have paid altogether, in rates and something like £91, of which burden you are now entirely relieved. You are asked to pay instead £10 on your land only. Are you really so hardly done by?"

"If you put it that way, perhaps not."

"And for these ten pounds," I continued, "the community puts at your disposal postal and telegraph service, roads, railways, protection of lite, liberty, and property; education for your children, and many other conveniences. Is that so great a hardship?"

"These are very fine promises, truly; but if you are going to reduce my taxes from £91 to £10, as you say, where is the money to come from to carry them out?"

"You say your shop in Cheapside is not on your own land. What is the ground rent of that?"

"I pay £500 in ground rent; of course, besides my shop, there are offices which I sublet."

"Then you see these £500 which you formerly paid into private pockets will now go into the State coffers, as the price of 'natural opportunities withheld.' This will more than compensate the State for the reduction of taxes made to you and your fellow-tenants. The annual value of ground rents amounts to more than 200,000,000, which is far above the total expenditure; that for last year was only £185.000,000. But on this we shall be able to economize a good deal—so that the rent-tax will be sufficient for both imperial and focal needs—and spend it more usefully. What was spent on poor law, police, prisons, hereditary pensions to people who had done nothing to earn them, sinecures, and gewgaws, will now be devoted to more useful purposes. We shall also save a great deal by abolishing custom houses and by the simplification of taxation, which will page 18 enable us to do away with much unnecessary machinery; o[unclear: r], any rate, employ it more profitably. In short, instead of hampering trade and industry, we shall try to help it on."

"But for all that you have made a poorer man of me. Yesterday I could have sold my house and land for £1000."

"You can still sell your house!"

"Yes, but I would get nothing for the land."

"No, but you could buy another block for the same price."

"So—I—could," he muttered with amazement, as if this truth had only just dawned upon him.

"And your children won't have to toil and scrape for years before they will be allowed to have a home in their native land"

"That's enough, sir!" he exclaimed. "I was a blockhead to have given you all this trouble for nothing. What a fool Actually wanted to keep up land monopoly because it has made my battle in life hard; and never to think that if kept up it would make it as hard for my children. Good-day, sir. I am move than satisfied with the change."