[Reprinted from Land and Freedom,
The usual comment of those in comfortable conditions, when speaking
of the less fortunate class, is that if the masses were more
industrious, frugal and intelligent, their lot in life would be vastly
improved; would in fact, be quite equal to their own; that they are
the makers of their own condition.
This attitude on the part of the more fortunate dulls the sense of
responsibility they might otherwise feel did they understand better
the real cause producing so much of the poverty to be found
everywhere. Also, it is flattering to the well-to-do to imagine that,
in a country like ours, where all are politically equal and the
humblest rise to high places in government and business, that they
forged ahead of their fellows by sheer force of merit; for all of
which they have only themselves to praise.
A few years ago there died in New York City a Polish immigrant, who
had come to this country penniless and friendless some forty years
before, and through investments in land on Manhattan Island, amassed a
fortune of many millions. The newspaper all over the country told the
story of his career, and much editorial comment was devoted to his
achievements, and most of the papers big and little said it was all
due to his business sagacity and judgment.
The fact that this Polish immigrant succeeded to such an extent under
handicaps which many would consider as insurmountable, furnished a
theme for the editorial writers for quite a spell; he was hailed as an
example of what thrift and farsightedness might accomplish for other
immigrant boys, and poor native boys, as well. They counselled
everybody to make investments in land, watch values grow, and reap
fortunes as the Polish immigrant had done. It all sounded like good
advice, even though it were not.
Had the writers of the articles analyzed the economic conditions that
made for this success, they perhaps would not have been quite so
certain that just anyone nor very many could do the same, and would
have hesitated before stating it as their conclusion that all they had
to do was to do it.
The millions of that great city made his wealth for him. As they
toiled at the business of making a living, and others come to dwell
there, by their presence and industry his wealth grew and grew, though
he did no more to make it increase than any other one of the millions.
But he got the entire increase. They got nothing. They even paid more
rent because he held his land out of use. Was he a public benefactor?
Had the men and women of that city bought land and held it out of
use, as the newspaper counseled them to do in emulation of the Polish
immigrant, the city could not have grown at all. Then how could value
have been created? Questions like this supply their own answers.
We should know how the holding of land out to use affects adversely
those who must use it and all must. The quantity of things available
fixes the price to the user, and if land be held at a prohibitive
price, waiting for a rise, it is, for the time being at least, as
though that much land had sunk into the ocean. Others who sell gain an
advantage in price by the artificial scarcity created by the one
holding his out of use.
If a tax sufficient to compel the bringing of valuable land into use
were imposed this would lower ground prices and cause the erection of
more buildings, thus benefiting the man who desired to build a home
for his own use, as well as those who build to let to others. There
would be more houses built in either case.
Reduced ground values and exemption of buildings from taxation
increase the number of buildings, thereby lowering rent; so both the
owner and the tenant would be benefitted the former by reduction in
land prices and exemption from taxation of the building, whether
occupied, or not; the latter by the increased number of houses
available, for the quantity of things available fixes the price to the
user, whether it be land, houses, diamonds, or apples.
Every saving effected in the price of land, means just that much more
return to labor for its exertions. And whenever desirable land,
through taxation, is forced into use whether in city, town, or
country- it means less resort to disadvantageous locations. Take the
country for instance: If desirable land that adjacent to cities and
towns were not held out of use by fictitious, speculative prices,
there would be no necessity for rural dwellers to make their homes in
remote sections and compel them to the cultivation of inferior soil,
the combined disadvantages preventing them from making a living under
even the best conditions otherwise. They are not there by choice; they
are forced there by our barbaric taxation system, which allows the few
to reap what all have sown.
The only way on earth to bring desirable land into use is to tax it
in an amount equal to what users would pay for its annual use. Then
land prices would come down to actual value; and not until then will
communities develop and be prosperous. A sure foothold security of
possession will enable them to dwell in peace and plenty, and by
cooperation, have all the modern conveniences denied them individually
under present conditions.
Take by taxation the value created by the whole people, and the
benefits that would accrue- moral, social, political, economic stagger
the imagination in contemplation. No question of charity is involved
only justice. Charity! charity! we hear so much about it we come to
think it is the only remedy for poverty. But it is not; it is not.
Charity cannot usurp the functions of justice, for justice is first.
It is the chief cornerstone of the temple. It is the stone the
The Single Tax means Justice in action ; it means equality and
freedom for all, oppression of none. It is so simple, we hesitate to
believe it can be so potent. We are baffled by its very simplicity,
but shall we turn away from it for that reason? Where shall we look?