Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
President's Address, Summarised (S361: 1883)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Third person summary of Wallace's address to the second annual meeting of the Land Nationalisation Society, on 27 June 1883. Printed in the Report of the Land Nationalization Society 1881-3. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S361.htm


     [[p. 5]] Mr. Wallace first reviewed the more interesting phases of the Land movement during the past year. The progress of the public opinion was declared to be satisfactory, due in part to Mr. George's arrest in Ireland, and the consequent notice by the Press of his remarkable work, Progress and Poverty, but also largely to its great circulation, and the activity of several of the officers and members of our Society, who have contributed numerous letters to the Press. The case of the Skye crofters, and the destitute state of the Island of Lewis--for forty years the absolute property of a wealthy and benevolent banker--were adverted to, and it was shown that the miserable state of things there is entirely due to denial of any rights in the soil to the inhabitants of those islands. On the question of pauperism fresh proof was adduced of the very misleading character of the official statistics of pauperism, on which politicians found their optimistic and erroneous statements as to its diminution.

     The case of the Southport foreshore was adduced, as a striking example of the need of nationalization in order to give every locality power to utilise waste lands for the benefit of the community.

     Referring next to the question of Mr. George and his teachings, the proposal to tax rent instead of at once nationalizing the land was examined, and it was shown that, "according to the principles laid down by Mr. George himself, such a method would be necessarily inoperative and worthless. The whole point of Mr. George's argument is to show that, so long as land is a monopoly in the hands of individuals, be they few or many, everything that benefits the community--the users of land,--must necessarily increase the value of land, and thus transfer the larger part of that benefit into the hands of the landlords. He shows that, however much the cost of production may be diminished, or the expenses of Government reduced, wages will not rise, but landlords will grow richer. Yet he proposes [[p. 6]] to tax rent, and thus benefit the community. Is it not clear that this benefit, like all the other benefits he has examined in his Book VI., chap. i, must inevitably lead to a rise of rent, and further taxation to a yet further rise? Even if rents were fixed at the time they were taxed, does anybody imagine that that would prevent the landlords from getting the rise in the form of premium, or bonus, or by some other arrangement, the failure to carry out which would lead to ejection? In other words, the price of an article of necessity, which is a monopoly, is the highest competition price that can be paid for it, and any attempt to reduce this price by taxation, or by other legislative means, must fail so long as the monopoly continues. Land is an article of the first necessity. Men must have it or die. Whatever people can afford to pay for it now, they do pay. Make the community better off by taxing landlords, and the community can afford to pay more, and therefore it will have to pay more. The proposal to raise the land-tax to its original amount of 4s. in the pound on the full present value would merely cause rents to rise to that amount on the average, but as they would rise very unequally, enormous distress would be caused, and yet no one be benefited."

     In conclusion, the President called attention to the very valuable works of the Belgian economists, Baron Colins and M. Agathon de Potter, and gave a summary of their views. In his opinion they formed the most complete system of social and political reform yet put forward, embracing not only the complete nationalisation of the land, on lines very similar to those adopted by this Society, but dealing also with the relations of capital and labour in a very thorough and practical manner. He trusted that these remarkable works would be soon translated and condensed for the study of English reformers.


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Comment by Charles H. Smith, Western Kentucky University (4/07):

In this same Report, on pages 7 and 8, there is an interesting summary of how the Land Nationalisation Society came about: "In the Contemporary Review for November, 1880, there appeared an article, 'How to Nationalize the Land. A Radical Solution of the Irish Land Question,' by Alfred Russel Wallace. This article led to the foundation of the Society . . . As happens to many other valuable and philanthropic suggestions, very little public notice was taken of Mr. Wallace's proposals; but on the 28th of November, 1880, Mr. A. C. Swinton addressed a letter to him, proposing the formation of a Land Nationalization Society. To this letter Mr. Wallace responded on the 30th of the same month. Mr. Swinton proceeded, early in December, to ascertain what support would be rendered to form a Society, and it resulted in a preliminary meeting being held at Upper Norwood, on the 6th March, 1881, at which several gentlemen were present. Mr. Wallace claimed as a speciality of his scheme, that no previous one distinguished as did his between the land per se, and what man placed in or upon it, and this he considered essential to the successful working of Land Nationalization." If what Wallace claimed in this latter regard is actually so, it seems that he should be given greater credit for this advance among human and economic geographers than he has actually received.

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