Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
of Land Nationalisation (S365: 1883)
In the July issue of this magazine an article appeared on "State Socialism and the Nationalisation of the Land," from the pen of Professor Fawcett, in which he referred to two books recently published as having drawn attention to this question--one of these being my own volume on Land Nationalisation, the other, Mr. Henry George's well-known Progress and Poverty. In consequence of the wide circulation of the latter work, Professor Fawcett thinks it important to examine carefully the proposals there advocated, and he proceeds to do so, though, as it seems to me, far from "carefully," since he starts many difficulties which would never arise under Mr. George's proposals, and entirely ignores the vast mass of fact, argument, and illustration, by means of which the radical injustice of private property in land, and its enormous and widespread evil results, are set forth and demonstrated. With the treatment of Mr. George, however, I do not here propose further to meddle; but as Professor Fawcett has quoted the title of my book as one of those which have drawn attention to the subject, while he deliberately ignores every fact, argument, and proposal contained in it; and as the press has very widely noticed and praised this article as demonstrating the futility and impracticability of land nationalisation, I gladly seize the opportunity afforded me of stating the other side of the question. This is the more necessary because the readers of Professor Fawcett's article will certainly carry away the impression that my proposals are substantially the same as those of Mr. George, and that a criticism of the one will apply equally to the other; whereas, not only are they absolutely distinct and unlike, but those first advanced by myself have commended themselves to a considerable number of advanced thinkers who previously held nationalisation to be impracticable, and have led to the formation of a Land Nationalisation Society, which has now been two years in existence, and is gradually but surely aiding in the formation of a distinctively English school of land reformers. These facts, to which Professor Fawcett's attention has been specially directed, surely required that some notice, however brief, should be given to them in an article written expressly to instruct the public on this great question.
In order to place this question fairly before my readers within the limits [[p. (358)]] here assigned to me, it will be necessary to omit the consideration of some of its aspects altogether, and to treat others very briefly. The fundamental question undoubtedly is, the right or the wrong, the justice or the injustice, of private property in land. And then follows the question of results; right and justice lead to good results--to happiness and general well-being; wrong and injustice as surely lead to bad results, and their fruits are moral evil and physical suffering. We have to inquire, then, what are the actual results of modern landlordism? and thus confirm or modify the conclusions we have reached from general principles. Finally, we have to consider how we can best carry into effect right and just principles so as most certainly to reap the reward of moral and physical well-being. This really exhausts the subject. The historical inquiry--how private property in land arose, what changes it has undergone, the results of legislation by landlords and usurpation by kings, the story of royal grants, confiscations, and inclosures, are all exceedingly interesting, and will be found to support and strengthen at every point the argument from principle and from results; but it is not essential to a comprehension of the main question, and we shall therefore omit it here, referring our readers to such works as Mr. Joseph Fisher's History of Landholding in England; Our Old Nobility (originally published in the Echo newspaper); and Dr. W. A. Hunter's lecture on "The Land Question" (Mark Lane Express, January 8th, 1883), for condensed information on this branch of the subject.
First, then, we have to inquire whether private property in land is just and right; and here we find ourselves at once in conflict with the great body of Liberals and land-law reformers, who advocate, as their sole panacea, free trade in land. For the foundation of their doctrine is, that land should be treated as merchandise; that it is right for individuals to own it absolutely and in any quantity; that it is good for great capitalists to add farm to farm, and to build up great estates; that land should be bought and sold as easily as iron or railway shares. We nationalisers, on the other hand, say that all this is fundamentally wrong. We maintain that land should not be treated as merchandise, for the following reasons:--
As Professor Fawcett and Mr. Shaw-Lefevre have both shown, the land hunger of the rich is insatiable; and, as is well put by the Edinburgh Review--"It stands to reason that, if the sale and purchase of land were perfectly easy and free, those persons would buy most land and give the best price for it who had most money to buy it with."
To determine whether private property in land is right and just, and compatible with the well-being of the whole community, it will be well to glance briefly at the true foundations of property, and the admitted rights of a free man. Property is, primarily, that which is obtained or produced by the exertion of labour or the exercise of skill. In this a man has a right of property, to use, to give away, or to exchange. This is a universally admitted right which forms part of the very foundations of society, and many eminent writers maintain that it is [[p. (359)]] the only way in which private property can justly arise. Property is, however, usually admitted in any natural product found by an individual and obtained without labour; but this kind of property has never the absolute character of the former kind, since if the thing found is not abundant and is essential to life or well-being, the individual right to its exclusive possession is not admitted. The single good spring of water on an island, a single group of fruit or other useful trees, a single pond or stream containing abundance of fish, are not allowed to be appropriated by the first discoverer to the exclusion of his fellow men.
Property in the results of a man's labour has no such limitations; it is usually hurtful to no one, and with free access to natural agencies and products, and freedom of exchange between man and man, is beneficial to all. There is no other natural and universal source of private property but this--that every man has a right to the produce of his own labour; and hence, as land is not produced by man it cannot equitably become private property.
Let us next look at the question from the point of view of the rights of individuals, as members of a society which upholds freedom as a fundamental principle of its existence. In such a society it will surely be admitted that every man has an equal right to live. Not, be it observed, a right to be kept alive by others; not a right to claim any part of the produce of others' labour, but, simply, freedom to support himself by labour, freedom from all obstructions by his fellow-men of his own freedom to labour. Not to have this freedom of action is to be a slave; and to this extent at least it will be admitted that all men are, or should be, equal.
But man cannot live without access to the natural products which are essential to life--to air, to water, to food, to clothing, to fire. If the means of getting these are monopolised by some, then the rest are denied their most elementary right--the right to support themselves by their own labour. But neither pure air, nor water, neither food, clothing nor fire, can be obtained without land. A free use of land is, therefore, the absolute first condition of freedom to live; and it follows, that the monopoly of land by some must be wrong, because it necessarily implies the right of some to prevent others from obtaining the necessaries of life.
Another consideration which shows the private ownership of land to be unjust is the fact (admitted by all economists), that the whole commercial value of land is the creation of society, increasing just as population and civilisation increase. If one man had a grant of an uninhabited island or country, the size of Britain, the value per acre of all the land which he did not use himself would be nil. Rather than live alone he would give land to any one who would settle near him. And when others came he would sell them land, as it is sold in all new countries, for a mere trifle, while he could never enforce his rights over those who took possession of remote parts of his territory. But, just as the population increased the land would rise in value; till, when towns and cities had sprung up, and all the arts of civilised life were practised, and communications were established with every part of the world, a single acre might sell for 1,000 pounds or 10,000 pounds. Who created this value? Not the original settler, but society. And this shows the absurdity of comparing, as some do, the occasional increase in the value of other property with that of land. In the case of everything which is the product of human labour, the tendency is for it to become cheaper as population increases and civilisation advances. When the reverse occurs it is usually owing to exceptional conditions, or to the influence of some kind of monopoly. But with land the increase of value is universally coincident with and due to the growth of [[p. 360]] society, and the only fluctuations in this constant rise are owing either to monopoly and speculation forcing the price at a certain epoch above its natural value, or to restrictions on its free use by the people. Here again we bring out a broad distinction between the products of a man's labour which are and should be private property, and land, the gift of nature to man and the first condition of his existence, which should ever remain the possession of society at large.
One other consideration remains, and perhaps the most important of all as affording a demonstration of the necessarily evil results of unrestricted private property in land. If a portion of the community is allowed to appropriate the whole of the land for its private use and benefit, this appropriation necessarily carries with it the right and the power to appropriate the bulk of the products of the labour of the rest of the community, while it keeps down wages to a minimum rate just sufficient to maintain physical existence. Carlyle recognised this truth when he speaks of the poor widow boiling nettles for her only food, and the perfumed lord in Paris extracting from her every third nettle as rent. The late Professor Cairnes in many of his writings dwelt upon this consequence of landlordism. In one of his essays in the Fortnightly Review, he says:--
But this result has been most clearly and forcibly demonstrated by Mr. Henry George, who makes it the very key-note of his book, and illustrates it by a wealth of illustration and a force of argument which must be carefully studied to be appreciated. I can here only find space for an abstract of one of his illustrations.
Let us suppose an island, with no external communications, and but moderately peopled, in which the land was equally divided among all the inhabitants; and let us suppose that there was free trade in land as in everything else, just as desired by our most advanced politicians. After fifty or a hundred years let us look again at this island, and we shall certainly find the land most unequally divided; some will be very rich and have large landed estates, many will be very poor and have sold or otherwise parted with all their land. We may suppose there to be no wars, a pure government, few taxes, no state church, no hereditary nobility; yet inequality in ownership of land will have caused pauperism and virtual slavery. For, all must live on the land, and from the products of the land; therefore those who do not own land can only have the use of it or obtain its products on the terms of those who do own it. They are really slaves; for, in order to live, they must accept the landlord's terms and do as he bids them.
If landlords are rather numerous it will not seem like slavery, because the forms of free contract will be observed. But there can really be no free contract, because the landowners can wait, the landless cannot. They must work on the landowner's terms or starve. And thus, just in proportion as population increases, and the competition for land and its products, especially for bare food, becomes keener, the landowners will obtain a larger and larger share of the products of the soil--in other words, rents will rise, and wages will fall or remain stationary. Now let us introduce a fresh element--labour-saving [[p. 361]] machinery. This will enable more wealth to be produced with the same labour or with less; but it will not decrease the dependence of labour upon land. All the increased production of wealth will go to the wealthy--the landlords, the landless remaining as poor as before. As the climax of this argument, Mr. George supposes the case of labour-saving machinery to be brought to absolute perfection, so that all wealth will be produced by various forms of automata, without human labour. Then all wealth will belong to the landowners, for even standing-room for houses and machinery cannot be obtained except on their terms, and the landless multitude must necessarily starve in the midst of plenty, or live as servile dependents on the landlord's bounty. Thus, private property in land--even were all other social and political evils removed--necessarily makes the many poor that the few may be rich; for it prevents free access to those natural elements without which man cannot live, and thus directly causes poverty and pauperism, and the long train of miseries and crimes that spring therefrom.
By this preliminary inquiry we have shown--(1) That private property in land can never justly arise, because land is not a product of human labour. (2) That the monopoly of the land by a class is inconsistent with the fundamental rights of individuals in a professedly free country. (3) That the whole commercial value of land is the creation of society, not of landlords and tenants, and should therefore belong to the community. (4) That private property in land necessarily leads to the poverty and subjection of the many for the benefit of the few.
I therefore claim to have completely answered the fundamental question with which I started, and to have demonstrated that, as a matter of principle, our present land-system is absolutely wrong, cruelly and perniciously unjust. Before proceeding to consider how far this conclusion is supported by the facts and results of modern landlordism, I cannot but remark on the absolute silence of Professor Fawcett on the whole question of right or wrong. He knows that this aspect of the subject is treated with wonderful force and most convincing illustration in Mr. George's book; he knows that nearly a hundred thousand copies of that book have been circulated among English readers; and yet he confines himself exclusively to Mr. George's practical proposals which have really nothing to do with the main question. Are we to suppose that he upholds the convenient doctrine that whatever is is right; that ethics need have no place in political teaching; and that the happiness or misery of millions are as nothing compared with the maintenance of the usurped rights and privileges of British landlords? He can surely not imagine that such a mode of treating this great subject can have the slightest effect as an antidote to Mr. George's teachings.
We now come to the important practical question, What is the outcome of modern landlordism? We have seen, that, from various distinct points of view, it is wrong in principle; the works we have referred to on the history of the subject show that it had its origin in force, and has since been largely maintained by confiscation and by unjust legislation; but we are so practical a people, that, if it can be shown that its results are good we should care little about principles or about history, but would be quite content to maintain a system which works tolerably well. And people actually do say that it works well. Press and Parliament are never tired of exclaiming-- "See how rich we are! What a trade we do with all the world! Our system, which produces such results, must be all right!" But along with our great riches we have a mass of terrible poverty, and it is the opinion of disinterested writers that [[p. 362]] we are the most pauperised country on the globe.1
Our public men continually assure us that pauperism is diminishing; or that at the worst it is stationary, while our population is increasing rapidly, and that it is therefore proportionally diminishing; and they base their statements on the official statistics of pauperism. I shall show, however, that these are not trustworthy guides, and that there is good reason to believe that, during the very periods in which our aggregate wealth has increased most rapidly, pauperism has increased also in positive amount, and perhaps even in greater proportion than the increase of population.
If we take the official statistics of pauperism in England and Wales for the last thirty years we find great fluctuations, but nothing like a regular diminution. Between 1849 and 1880 the numbers were lowest in the years 1853 and 1876-78, while they were highest from 1862 to 1873. The only years in which the numbers rose above a million were 1863-64 and 1868-71, and this was the very period when our commerce was increasing so rapidly as to excite the enthusiasm of our legislators, and when our prosperity was supposed to be greatest. The extremely irregular fluctuations of official pauperism render it possible almost always to choose some year, twenty, thirty, or forty years back, when it was higher than now, and thus show an apparent decrease of numbers; but if we take the whole period from 1849 to 1880 as one during which our commerce and wealth increased enormously, and all the industrial arts and means of communication made the most rapid strides, and take the average pauperism of the first twelve and last twelve of these years we find them almost exactly the same, thus--1849-1860, average paupers, 863,338; 1869-1880, average paupers, 864,398. Between the middle points of these two periods (1854 to 1874) the population increased about 23 per cent., and thus the proportional pauperism appears to have decreased considerably, though not at all in proportion to the increase of our aggregate wealth, which was at least doubled during the same period.
Several causes have, however, been in operation during this period which have led to the numbers of officially recorded paupers forming a less and less adequate indication of the total mass of pauperism in the country, so that even the small comfort derived from its supposed decrease in proportion to population may be denied us. In the first place there can be no doubt that the extent and efficiency of private charity all over the country have been steadily increasing, and that by its generous aid large numbers have been saved from becoming paupers. Not only have old charities been better administered, but many societies have been formed for the systematisation of private charity; while all over the country the clergy, and an ever increasing army of lady visitors, have aided the poor with advice and timely relief. It is impossible to estimate the amount of these various agencies, but it seems not impossible that they may have relieved the ratepayers from an amount equal to that due to increase of population during the same period; and this is the more probable when we consider the enormous increase of the wealthy middle class, and the increasing feeling that the poor have some moral claim upon the rich, leading to more and more liberality in every case of undeserved misfortune.
But yet more powerful agencies have been at work tending to decrease the numbers of official paupers without any corresponding decrease of poverty and pauperism. For many years there has [[p. 363]] been a growing disposition to diminish out-door relief, and apply more generally the "workhouse test" which is the fundamental principle of our poor law. It is well known that there is such a wide-spread dislike and dread of the workhouse among the more respectable poor that many will rather starve than enter it, and as a matter of fact many do starve who might have been well fed within its walls. Now in the Daily News of April 18th of this year, there was a remarkable article giving an account of the results of this change of system in some London parishes. It states that ten years ago a severe reduction of outdoor relief was commenced in Whitechapel and other parishes, till at the present time there is no out-door relief given in that parish, nor in Stepney and St. George's in the East, while the same process is going on in Marylebone and other parts of London, and to a less extent all over the kingdom. The article in question states the remarkable fact that this great change has produced practically no increase of indoor paupers. In Stepney, for example, out-door relief has been reduced by 7,000 in the last ten years, and there is no increase whatever of indoor paupers, the reason being (as expressly stated) that organised private charity has taken the place of out-door relief. Now if there has been a reduction of 7,000 official paupers in one London parish without any proof of a corresponding decrease of real want and destitution, how utterly unmeaning and even misleading becomes the quotation of these official statistics as showing any real decrease of our pauperism. If we take as our guide the fact, that, in one of the worst and most poverty-stricken districts of the metropolis, organised private charity has been able to take the place of the relieving officer when a total cessation of out-door relief has been effected, we may be sure that it has been found quite equal to the much easier task of relieving those thrown on its hands by a very partial application of the same methods of dealing with the poor in other parts of the country. We may, therefore, fairly assume that the diminution of out-door paupers over the whole country during the last thirty years has been largely due to the stricter application of the workhouse test, and that those thus refused relief by the guardians have been aided and kept alive by more extensive and better organised private charity. If this is the case, the only official test of pauperism as actually increasing or decreasing will be found in the records of indoor relief, and these show numbers steadily increasing at a much greater rate than population! Thus in the thirty years from 1852 to 1882 the number of indoor paupers in England has continuously increased, from 106,413 in the former year to 188,433 in the latter, an increase of 83 per cent., while in the same period population only increased 45 per cent. The plain inference is, that confirmed pauperism--that which includes all the most degraded and the most hopeless of our poor--has been steadily increasing at a greater rate than our population, during a period in which our aggregate wealth has been doubled, and our commerce, of which we are so proud, has increased three-fold!
Before quitting this subject, it is well to point out that the way in which the number of paupers is estimated is most misleading, and gives no adequate idea of the real numbers. The tables show only the numbers relieved on the 1st January in each year, but it is estimated that the actual number of persons receiving relief during the year is nearly two and a half times this number, or about an average of two millions for England and Wales (for details of this estimate see the present writer's Land Nationalisation, p. 3), or two and a half millions for the United Kingdom. If we add to this latter number those who receive relief in the casual wards (which are not included in the official tables), and the very large numbers who depend wholly or [[p. 364]] partially on private charity for support, we shall perhaps bring the figures up to three and a half millions. But beyond this number of actual paupers loom a vast host of the poor who ever live on the verge of pauperism, and from whom the ranks of the actual paupers are constantly recruited, including whole populations, like the cottiers of the west of Ireland, and the crofters of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, living in such a condition of perennial want that it only requires that most certain of periodical events--a bad season--to produce actual famine. If we add only one million for all these, we bring up the number of actual or potential paupers in this civilised, Christian, and pre-eminently wealthy country to about four millions and a half, or about one in seven of the whole population!
This dreadful failure to distribute with any approach to fairness among our workers the enormous wealth which they alone produce, is rendered more disgraceful when we take account of the vast extension of labour-saving machinery during the epoch we are considering.
It is calculated that we now possess steam-engines of about ten million horse power, equal to a hundred million men always working for us. Reckoning six million families in the United Kingdom, we may say that every family has the equivalent of sixteen hard-working slaves, who are never idle and always do a full day's work. What ought to be the result of all this labour, in addition to the grinding labour of all our working men and women? Should we not expect abundance of food and clothing for all, and ample leisure for the cultivation of the mind, and the enjoyment of the beauties of nature and of art? Instead of this, we have wide-spread, ever-present pauperism; crowded cities reeking with squalor, filth, drunkenness, and vice; a depopulated country; and, as a direct consequence of these two factors--streams polluted with wasted fertilising matter, destroying at once natural, valuable fish-food, beauty, and human life. Everywhere we find wealthy people enjoying all the luxuries and refinements of a high civilisation; but amidst them we also find masses of human beings living more degraded lives than most savages, and working harder and more continuously than most slaves.
In our preliminary inquiry we have shown that some such result as this ought to arise from absolute private property in land. It is surely a remarkable coincidence (if it be only a coincidence) that these results should occur in such extreme and painful development in the country where land is concentrated in the fewest hands, where the legal rights of landlords are the most absolute, and where, owing to the enormous aggregation of wealth, the divorce between those who own and those who cultivate the soil is the most complete. Let us endeavour to throw further light upon this question by an examination of the effects of our system in special cases.
In Ireland we have the spectacle of landlords doing what they like with their own for three centuries, backed up by a landlord parliament which made any laws they thought necessary; and the result has been a country in continual rebellion and a people ever on the verge of starvation.
This chronic starvation has been imputed to any and every cause but the real one--to over-population, to idleness, to potatoes; the real and all-sufficient cause being that the mass of the population are crowded on small and utterly insufficient holdings of the worst lands at extravagantly high rents, which means, that everything they raise besides enough potatoes to support life goes as tribute to the landlords.
Under such conditions, no population however limited, no industry however great, no agriculture however perfect, no soil however fertile, could save a people from poverty and recurring famines.
As Mr. DeCourcy Atkins well puts [[p. 365]] it:--"Less than 2,000 persons own two-thirds of the land in Ireland, and out of its five or six million inhabitants there is no man of those who have tilled it and given it all its present value who owns one sod of its soil. For the land owned by these two thousand persons, many of whom are absentees, five hundred thousand families are competing, as the sole stay between them and starvation." The Devon Commission, thirty-five years ago, declared authoritatively that in Ireland everything on the land which gives it value--houses, buildings, fences, gates, drains, &c. have been made by the tenants, and are undoubtedly their own property; yet from that day till two years ago our Parliament has allowed and even encouraged the Irish landlords to rob the tenants of this property by forms of law, and thousands and tens of thousands of Irish tenants have been robbed accordingly! Yet more. In the four years succeeding the great famine, there were over two hundred thousand evictions; whole town-lands were depopulated, and their human inhabitants driven off to make room for cattle and sheep--houses, schools, churches, everything being destroyed. The results of this are still to be seen over a large part of Ireland, where the traveller seems to be passing through a land bereft of human inhabitants, but marked by abundant ruins. The Daily News special commissioner, writing from Mayo, in October 1880, says:--"Tradesmen, farmers, and all the less wealthy part of the community still speak sorely of the evictions of thirty or forty years ago, and point out the graveyards which alone mark the sites of thickly populated hamlets abolished by the crowbar." The lands thus cleared were let in blocks of several square miles each to English or Scotch farmers for grazing farms, in order, as he tells us, that landlords "might get their rents more easily and more securely," even though they were sometimes less than those paid by the former inhabitants. And what became of these inhabitants? Let the Devon Commission, appointed by Parliament, and consisting mostly of landlords, answer the question:--
Now, consider these horrible results produced in four years to a million of people; consider further, that the same kind of eviction, with its consequent misery and vice, has been going on in Ireland in varying degrees down to this very year, and that all this untold wretchedness, this cruel, heart-rending wrong, this vice, and crime, and pauperism, this disease and death, have been caused--not in a great war between nations struggling for supremacy, not to maintain any great principle of religious or civil liberty, but, "in order that landlords may get their rents more securely and more easily!" And now, in this year, 1883, when the people of Ireland, crowded into towns and on the poorest lands of the west coast, are again starving, the only remedy our landlord legislators can propose is to ship them off by thousands to other countries, and thus increase and intensify that widespread hatred of English rules which is the natural and just punishment we are receiving for persistent injustice. These deserted villages are not to be [[p. 366]] again repeopled; the cattle and sheep must be still allowed to displace Irishmen; the "easy collection" of the landlord's rents must on no account be endangered; let everything go on as before, and when our consciences or our fears are aroused by the cry of too many starving Irishmen, let subscriptions be got up, and let the English people be taxed to ship off a few thousands of surplus paupers to New York, and all will be well!
Here we see pure landlordism having its own way, and working out its natural and inevitable results, in the extreme case of ownership of the soil of a country for the most part by absentees and by aliens in race and religion. About this there can be no dispute. And if the absurd and totally unfounded cry of over-population is always to be followed by more emigration, there can be no end to the process. For even were the population reduced to one million of Irish peasant cultivators, that million would continue in exactly the same condition of misery and destitution as the present population, if they were confined to limited areas and were subjected to the extortions of the agents of absentee or alien landlords. Even before the famine the exorbitant rents and high taxes were paid chiefly by means of exported food, showing that the land of Ireland was able to support many more than the eight millions which then inhabited it. Yet now, when the population has been reduced to five or six millions, the same cry of over-population is raised--as it was a century ago when there were only two millions; and whether there be two or five or eight millions in the country, there will certainly be starvation and local over-population if the people are forbidden the free use of their native land, are confined to the least productive districts and to insufficient holdings, and all the surplus produce above a bare supply of potatoes in average years is exported to pay rent! That more starving Irishmen should be expatriated while millions of acres which they once tilled are given up to cattle and sheep, is the condemnation of landlord government. That the chronic famine which has prevailed in Ireland for a century should still devastate it, is the condemnation of landlordism itself.
Let us now turn to another country, where the landlord power has had complete sway for a century, unfettered by any of the difficulties which are often alleged as the reason for its terrible failure in Ireland. In the Highlands of Scotland there has been no religious difficulty, and there has been no antipathy of race; the people have not depended wholly on potatoes, and the country has certainly never been over-populated. Neither has there been any rebellion against authority; but the universal testimony of all who know them best is, that in the whole British dominions there exists no more intelligent, religious, peaceable and industrious people than the Highland peasantry. Yet here too, under the most favourable conditions, we find perennial destitution and famine, and this very year sees another of the long series of Royal Commissions seeking out that which is plain as the sun at noonday, the causes of want and misery among the tenantry of an enormously wealthy, and in their own territories almost omnipotent, body of landlords. The causes are, simply, that the native inhabitants have been driven from the inland valleys to the sea-coast to make room for sheep and deer. The terrible history of the Highland clearances is too long to go into in this place. Suffice it to state, that two millions of acres once inhabited by human beings are now devoted to deer only, from which the noble Highland chieftains or their successors get much sport or large rentals. Seventy men at this day own half Scotland, and if they choose to complete what they have begun, and turn more fields and meadows into hunting-grounds, our existing law permits them to do so; while no [[p. 367]] amendment of the law as yet proposed by Liberal politicians would place the slightest check upon this iniquitous power.
The reader who wishes to know how the brave Highlanders have been treated by those who owe everything to them, and who should have been their protectors--their hereditary chieftains--should read Mr. Alexander Mackenzie's recently published History of the Highland Clearances, or the outline of the main facts in my own work, referred to by Professor Fawcett. Let us now see what are the conditions under which the Highlanders live at the present day, and consider whether under such conditions anything but poverty, discontent, and famine is possible. We learn from the various reports that have appeared in the daily papers, confirming the testimony of all previous impartial writers, that the Highland crofters are confined to miserably small holdings--the largest croft in Skye, for example, being seven acres; that the land is poor and the rent very high; that the landlords have continually encroached on the commons and mountains, the use of which for grazing is essential to the crofter's existence. These have been usually taken from them, without compensation, to make either large sheep-farms or deer-forests; and in many cases they suffer without redress from the incursions of the deer which eat their crops, while they are not allowed to keep dogs to mind their own sheep (when they have any) for fear of disturbing these sacred deer, whose well-being and due increase are carefully attended to even though it entails starvation on men and women.
Then, again, these great estates, often as large as continental kingdoms or dukedoms, are managed by agents and factors who represent an unknown and unseen landlord, and who are really despotic rulers, carrying out their own decrees under penalty of eviction--a penalty as severe as that imposed by the law of England on hardened criminals. It was stated in the Daily News, a paper which is celebrated for the careful accuracy of its information, that on one estate (a generation back) a whole body of crofters were removed because they had good land which the factor wanted; and this is the more credible because many other cases are recorded in which the factors take farms from which the former holders have been evicted. Under the rule of the factors the people may be oppressed and pauperised, even with the most benevolent of landlords. Take the case of the late Sir James Matheson, who bought the extensive island of Lewis (as large as an average English county) about forty years ago, and who is universally admitted to have been personally most benevolent and liberal. Yet under his paternal government tenants were ejected at the will of the factor, and extensive tracts turned into sheep farms and deer forests, and such cruel injustice was perpetrated for years that the people at length rebelled, and then only did their landlord know they had anything to complain of. The Quarterly Review declares that Sir James Matheson made wonderful improvements in Lewis, "pouring out money like water," and spending over 100,000 pounds there, besides giving largely in charity; and the result is that in this very year there is famine in Lewis, and the representatives of this wealthy and benevolent landlord are obliged to beg for subscriptions in the city of London to save the people from starvation! Nothing is said about the sheep and deer of the island; no doubt they are fat and flourishing and give handsome returns, whereas men and women are encumbrances and have to be kept alive by charity! What a cruel satire is this. An enormously rich country, which taxes its people heavily under the pretence that it dispenses justice and gives protection to all; which is highly civilised and highly religious; and which yet upholds a system under which large masses of its subjects have no right to live but [[p. 368]] by the permission of landlords and their irresponsible agents!
I cannot here go further into this distressing subject, but must again refer my readers to the easily accessible sources of information I have quoted. I will only give one passage from a writer of full knowledge and authority, Dr. D. G. F. Macdonald, to show that my conclusions are not the result of prejudice or imperfect knowledge:--
Here, then, we have reviewed the results of our land system. Persistent pauperism in the midst of boundless wealth in England--clearly due to the large farm system so dear to English landlords and agents, to the consequent driving of labourers to the towns to seek a subsistence, to the utter divorce of the labourer from any right in his native soil, and to land and building speculation, making it the interest of landlords and speculators that people should be driven to live crowded together in towns rather than be scattered naturally and beneficially over the country.
In Ireland we see agrarian war, chronic famine, and a degraded population, while by the cruel evictions and forced emigration, and the long-continued robbery of the Irish peasant's improvements, a deadly enemy to our country has been established in the United States.
In Scotland a religious, patient, educated peasantry have been forcibly driven from their native soil, while those which remain are pauperised, discontented, and famine-stricken.
In the first part of this article I have given a brief outline of the effects of landlord rule in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and I cannot but express my amazement that a writer like Professor Fawcett, who must be fully acquainted with the whole of the terrible facts I have here only been able to hint at--who nearly twenty years ago wrote so strongly on the pitiable condition of the British labourer--a condition since changed if anything for the worse, since he has become more than ever divorced from the soil and is tending to a nomadic life--and who has depicted so forcibly the land-hunger of the rich, should yet, in his latest teaching, have no other remedy to propose for the evils due to unrestricted private property in the first essential of human existence, the soil, on and by which men can alone live, than to make that property still more easily acquired by the wealthy and still more absolute, by means of complete free trade in land!
It has repeatedly been said, and will no doubt be said again, that many of the admitted evils here pointed out are not due to our system of landlordism, but to various other causes, such as improvidence, over-population, and idleness. To this I reply, that even where these causes do exist they are but secondary causes, and are themselves due to the landlord system. Improvidence is the inevitable result of insecurity for the produce of a man's labour; over-population is always local, and is produced by men being forcibly crowded together and not allowed freely to occupy and cultivate the soil; while idleness is the last accusation that should be made against any of the inhabitants of these islands, whose fault rather is a too great eagerness for work whenever they can work for fair wages or with full security that they will reap the produce of their labour. I reply, further, that the close correspondence between the theoretical and the actual results, between deduction and induction, must not be ignored. An irresistible logic assures us that the possession of the soil by some must make those who have to live by cultivating the soil virtual slaves; that it must keep down wages and enable the landlords to absorb all the surplus wealth produced by the labourer beyond what is necessary for a bare subsistence; while it indisputably prevents all who are not landowners from any use or enjoyment of their native soil except at the landowner's pleasure--a fact everywhere visible in the unnatural mode of growth of our towns and villages, where, with ample land suitable for pleasant and healthy homes all around them, people are forced to live in close-packed houses with the view of nature's beauties shut out and much of the discomfort and insalubrity of large towns carried into the country. The best way, however, to prove that these and many other evils are directly due to landlordism is to show by actual examples how constantly they disappear whenever the land belongs to those who cultivate it. This is the case in many parts of Europe; and although climate, race, laws, and the character and habits of the people may widely differ, we always find an amount of contentment and well-being strikingly contrasted with what prevails under the system of landlordism.
As regards Switzerland, Sismondi, in his Studies of Political Economy, gives [[p. 486]] full information. He declares that here we see the beneficial results of agriculture practised by the very people who enjoy its fruits, in "the great comfort of a numerous population, a great independence of character arising from independence of position, and a great consumption of goods the result of the easy circumstances of all the inhabitants." Many other writers confirm the accuracy of these statements. The observant English traveller, Inglis, speaks of the wonderful industry of the Swiss, the loving care with which they tend their fields and fruit-trees, and the complete way in which all the peasants' wants are supplied from the land; while, as a rule, pauperism and even poverty is unknown in the rural districts where peasant properties prevail. The common objection that small proprietors cannot use machinery or execute any improvements requiring co-operation, is answered by the examples of Norway and Saxony. In the former country Mr. Laing tells us how extensively irrigation is carried on by miles of wooden troughing along the mountain sides, executed in concert and kept up for the common benefit. The roads and bridges are also kept in excellent repair without tolls; and he considers this to be done because the people "feel as proprietors who receive the advantage of their own exertions."
Mr. Kay, a most unimpeachable witness, tells us that there is no farming in all Europe comparable with that of the valleys of Saxon Switzerland. After giving a picture of the perfect condition of the crops, the excessive care of manure, and other details, he adds:--
The late William Howitt, writing on the rural and domestic life of Germany, says:--
And Mr. Baring Gould, although showing how poor the peasant of North Germany often is, owing to the miserable system of each farm being cut up into scores or hundreds of disconnected plots, and his cruel subjection to Jew money-lenders, nevertheless thus compares him with the journeyman mechanic:-- "The artisan is restless and dissatisfied. He is mechanised. He finds no interest in his work, and his soul frets at the routine. He is miserable and he knows not why. But the man who toils on his own plot of ground is morally and physically healthy. He is a freeman; the sense he has of independence gives him his upright carriage, his fearless brow, and his joyous laugh."
In Belgium the most highly cultivated part of the country is that [[p. 487]] which consists of peasant properties; and even M'Culloch, the advocate of large farms, admits that,-- "in the minute attention to the qualities of the soil, in the management and application of manures of different kinds, in the judicious succession of crops, and especially in the economy of land, so that every part of it shall be in a constant state of production, we have still something to learn from the Flemings."
In France, though the farming may not be what we call good, the industry and economy of the peasant-proprietors is remarkable, while their well-being is sufficiently indicated by the wonderful amount of hoarded wealth always forthcoming when the Government requires a loan. The connection of peasant-cultivation with well-being is apparent throughout France. Sir Henry Bulwer remarks that by far the greatest number of the indigent is to be found in the northern departments, where land is less divided than elsewhere, and cultivated with larger capitals. Mr. Birkbeck, noticing that in one district the poor appeared less comfortable, found, on inquiry, that few of the peasants thereabouts were proprietors; while, in Anjou and Touraine, Mr. Le Quesne noticed that the houses of the country people were remarkable for their neatness, indicative of the ease and comfort of their possessors, and on inquiry as to the cause was told that the land was there divided into small properties. So when the celebrated agriculturist and traveller Arthur Young noticed exceptional improvement in irrigation and cultivation, he is so sure of the explanation of the fact that he remarks:--"It would be a disgrace to common sense to ask the cause; the enjoyment of property must have done it. Give a man secure possession of a bleak rock and he will turn it into a garden; give him a nine years' lease of a garden and he will convert it into a desert." (For these and many other examples see Thornton's Plea for Peasant Proprietors.)
It hardly needs to adduce more evidence to prove the intimate connection of the sense of secure possession with industry, well-being, and content. But we must briefly notice one more example at our very doors, and under our rule--the case of the Channel Islands. The testimony of all observers is unanimous as to the happy condition of these islands, and to its cause in the almost total absence of landlordism as it exists with us. The Hon. G. C. Brodrick, in his English Land and English Landlords, says:--
Mr. Brodrick, like every one else, attributes this wonderful success to the land system of the country.
Lest it be now said that there is something in the climate or soil of these various localities, or in the character or habits of the people to which these favourable results are to be imputed, I must refer to a few crucial examples in which every other cause but difference of land tenure is eliminated, and which therefore complete the demonstration to which this whole argument [[p. 488]] tends. The first of these is afforded by Italy, over large portions of which there are still, as in the time of the Romans, latifundia or large estates farmed by middlemen, and cultivated by labourers or tenants at will. In a recent work the great economist, M. de Laveleye, speaks of the "naked and desolate fields, where the cultivator dies of famine in the fairest climate and most fertile soil; such is the result of the latifundia. Economists, who defend the system of huge properties, visit the interior of the Basilicata and Sicily if you want to see the degree of misery to which your huge properties reduce the earth and its inhabitants." Yet in the same country and under the same laws, wherever fixity of tenure or peasant properties exist, the utmost prosperity prevails. Again, let us hear M. de Laveleye:--"I know of no more striking lesson in political economy than is taught at Capri. Whence come the perfection of cultivation and the comfort of the population? Certainly not from the fertility of the soil, which is an arid rock . . . Before obtaining the crops, it was necessary, so to speak, to create the soil. It is the magic of ownership which has produced this prodigy."
Now let us come back to our own country, where we shall find that exactly similar results are produced by similar causes. On the Annandale Estate in Dumfriesshire, plots of from two to six acres were granted to labourers on a lease of twenty-one years. They built their own cottages, having timber and stone supplied by the landlord, and these little farms were all cultivated by the labourer's family, and in his own spare hours. Now note the result. Among these peasant-farmers pauperism soon ceased to exist, and it was especially noticed that habits of marketing, and the constant demands on thrift and forethought brought out new powers and virtues in the wives. In fact, the moral effects of the system in fostering industry, sobriety, and contentment, were described as no less satisfactory than its economical success.
Again, on Lord Tollemache's estate in Cheshire, plots of land from two and a half to three and a half acres are let with each cottage at an ordinary farm rent, and the results have been eminently beneficial. It is remarked here too that the habits of thrift and forethought encouraged by cowkeeping and dairying, on however small a scale, constitute a moral advantage of great importance.
One more example must be given to show that even in Ireland the laws of human nature do act the same as elsewhere. Mr. Jonathan Pim, in his Condition and Prospects of Ireland, gives an account of how the rugged, bleak, and sterile mountain of Forth, in Wexford, is sprinkled with little patches of land, many of them on the highest part of the mountain, reclaimed and inclosed at a vast expense of labour by the peasant-proprietors, who have been induced to overcome extraordinary difficulties in the hope of at length making a little spot of land their own.
A volume might be filled with similar cases, but more are unnecessary here, for the evidence already adduced or referred to is absolutely conclusive. Wherever there are great estates let on an insecure tenure, we find in varying degrees the evils here pointed out. On the other hand, wherever we find men cultivating their own lands, or lands held on a permanent tenure [[p. 489]] at fixed rents, we find comparative comfort, no pauperism, and little crime. And as this is exactly what a consideration of the immutable laws of human nature and economic science has demonstrated must be the inevitable result, we have fact and reasoning, induction and deduction supporting each other.
Having now cleared the ground by an inquiry into principles and a survey of the facts, we come to the practical question--Can any adequate remedy be found for these widespread and gigantic evils?
The common panacea of the Liberal party, "Free-trade in land," must surely now appear to my readers to be ridiculously inadequate. It was tried in Ireland by the Encumbered Estates Act, and it so aggravated the disease that a Liberal Government has now been forced to stop free-trade in land altogether in Ireland, and fix rents by act of parliament! It has always prevailed in America, yet many of the evils of land monopoly are beginning to appear even there. It exists in Italy, yet great estates prevail, and the tiller of the soil starves in the midst of abundance as with us. It will do nothing for the poor evicted crofters or the famine-stricken cottiers of Ireland. It will not cause the tracts now occupied by sheep and deer to be given up again for the use of men and women; but it will allow rich men, more easily than now, to make more deer-forests and sheep-farms if they choose. It will not help the labourer, the mechanic, or the shopkeeper, to a plot of land where he requires it. It will not give back the land to the use of the people who want it most, and who, as the universal experience of Europe shows, are always benefited by it both physically and morally. Let us then appeal to first principles and simply follow their teaching.
We have seen (1) that private property in land cannot justly arise at all; and (2) that its results, except where small portions are personally occupied and tilled, are always evil. Hence we conclude that the land of a country should be the property of the state, and be free for the use and enjoyment of the inhabitants on equal terms. In order that every one may feel that sense of property in the land he cultivates which is the best incentive to industry, absolute security of tenure is necessary. This given, a man becomes virtually the owner of the land he holds from the state, and can deal with it like a freehold, only that it remains subject to such rents and such general conditions as may from time to time be held to be for the good of the community. Another important principle is, that sub-letting must be absolutely prohibited; for if this were allowed the evils of landlordism would again arise, as middlemen would monopolise large quantities of land which they would let out at advanced rents and under onerous conditions, so that the actual cultivators would be no better off than under the present landlord system.
Recurring again to first principles we find, that although land itself cannot justly become private property, yet everything added to the land by human labour is truly and properly so; and this leads to the important subdivision of landed property into two parts (as is so common in Ireland), the one represented by the landlord's rent for the use of the bare land, the other the tenant-right, consisting of the houses, fences, gates, plantations, drains, and other permanent and tangible improvements there always made by the tenants. Now these improvements, which for purposes of sale or transfer may here also be conveniently termed tenant-right, should always be the absolute property of the occupier of any plot of land, the state being the owner of the bare land only; and by this simple and logical division it will be seen that all necessity for state management, with the long train of evils which Professor Fawcett so properly emphasises, is absolutely done away [[p. 490]] with, and the cultivator may be left perfectly free to treat his estate as he pleases. For everything on the land which can be deteriorated by bad farming or wilful neglect is his private property, and its preservation may safely be left to the influence of self-interest; while the land, which is the property of the state, is practically incapable of deterioration; for its value depends on such natural causes as geological formation, arterial drainage, aspect, rainfall, and latitude, and on such social conditions as density of population, nearness to towns, to seaports, to railroads, or canals, the vicinity of manufactures, etc., none of which can be changed by the action of the tenant. The state, therefore, will have nothing whatever to manage, but need only collect its quit-rent as it now collects the land-tax or house-tax, leaving every land-holder perfectly free to do as he pleases, and only interfering with him by means of general enactments applicable to all holders alike. All arrangements that may be necessary for facilitating the acquisition of land by those who need it, should be in the hands of Local Land Courts, acting on principles determined by general enactment.
Having thus given the main outlines of a just and beneficial system of land tenure, let us consider briefly how to bring it into practical operation. And, first, we will explain how existing landlords are to be dealt with, as this is considered by many to be the real difficulty in the way of land nationalisation. We heartily agree with Professor Fawcett that the idea of confiscating all the landed property of the kingdom, and reducing all who derive their income wholly or mainly from land to a state of destitution, is not only grossly unjust, but would be utterly subversive of the very end for which nationalisation is proposed--the well-being of the whole community. We therefore put this suggestion altogether aside, as one never likely to gain ground in England, unless the blind opposition of the landlords to all just reform brings on revolution and anarchy.
We next come to the supposed alternative, to buy out the landlords with hard cash, or state securities, at the full market price of their lands; and here, too, I have always accepted Professor Fawcett's proof that the thing is financially impossible. But I go further, and say, that even if possible, it would be inadmissible; for, so to pay for it, would be to admit that private property in land is right even if it be inexpedient, and would provide for the perpetuation of a class of wealthy idlers, supported out of the produce of land which we have declared rightly to belong to the community. I cannot imagine that any sound economic thinker will declare, that it is either right or expedient to provide by special enactment that the unborn generations of our country shall be permanently divided into two classes as regards the national soil--one class tilling it and paying rent to the state for its use, the other class receiving from the state a large portion of these rents to enable them to live in idleness.
There remains, however, a third course, totally distinct from either of these, which, while doing no material injury to any landlord, or to the expectant heirs of any landlord, yet claims and at once secures the use of the soil for the nation. This method is the simple one of allowing all revenues derived from the land by individuals to die out with their lives, while the land itself is resumed by the state for the public benefit. The advantages of this plan are, that it requires no money to be raised, and therefore creates no financial difficulty; that it is just to the landlords, because it would not diminish their net income, or that of their direct living heirs; that it is just to the people because it obtains for them immediate possession and use of the land, and the reversion to all the [[p. 491]] rents as existing landlords and their heirs die off.
On the part of the landlords it will of course be said that the selling value of their estates will be diminished. Perhaps it will, though not to a great extent; but that is no real hardship if their incomes remain untouched, and as regards their heirs it will be a real and important advantage that their prospective incomes cannot be squandered away. Besides, this objection can hardly be made by any of those Liberals who supported the last Irish Land Act, since in that case not only was the selling value of most estates largely reduced, but the income from them was so much diminished that many landlords and their dependents have been absolutely ruined. If that extreme measure of confiscation was justified by the public benefits it was calculated to produce, then the proposal here made is more than justified, since the injury is hardly perceptible while the benefits are enormously greater. For in the case of Ireland one class has been benefited at the cost of another, while nothing has been done for the labourer or for the nation at large. But by the plan here proposed all will benefit, and there will accrue to the state a steadily-increasing income from quit-rents which will enable the more injurious taxes to be first remitted and ultimately all taxation whatever to be abolished. An especial advantage that may be claimed for this plan is, that the income derived from the annuities to landlords falling in, would begin very gradually, and go on steadily increasing for a period of sixty or eighty years. This would entirely obviate all the financial and commercial difficulty which would certainly be caused, either by the too sudden removal of many kinds of taxation, or by the too great and sudden accumulation of funds in the hands of Government, if the land revenues of the whole country came into its possession at any one fixed period.
Having thus shown how the land may be acquired by the state for the use of the community without cost, and yet without material injury to any living person, we may proceed to consider how it may best be used for the benefit of all; and here we shall be able to answer Professor Fawcett's questions (which he seems to think unanswerable)--"What principles are to regulate the rents to be charged? Who is to decide the particular plots of land that should be allotted to those who apply for them?" The answer to both is easy. Rents will be fixed in the first place by official valuation, following the precedent of the Irish Land Act; afterwards, probably, by free competition. As to who is to have land, it is essential that there should be the greatest freedom of choice compatible with the just rights of existing occupiers. How these two important matters may be settled I will now briefly indicate.
It will first be necessary to determine the value of the improvements on the land as distinguished from that of the land itself, and to facilitate subdivision or rearrangement of farms or holdings. This should be done for each separate inclosure shown on the large-scale ordnance maps. Some general principles being laid down for the guidance of the valuers there will be no real difficulty in making the separation. An old pasture field in which the hedges and gates have been constantly repaired by successive tenants may be considered to be, so far as the landlord is concerned, in an unimproved state. Here the whole value will be land value. From this as a datum the separation of improvements will take place where the landlord has recently put new gates, or has drained, or has built sheds, bridges, or farm buildings. The valuation, when complete, will show the annual value of the land for the state quit-rent, the present annual value of the improvements, and the present purchase value of the improvements to a tenant calculated on a scale determined by their quality and probable duration.
[[p. 492]] This official valuation being made, it would be only fair that the existing occupier of any farm or other land should have the first offer of it under the new conditions; these being that he should become the owner of the improvements and agree to pay the state quit-rent. If he has capital he can purchase the improvements by a cash payment, but if not he should be entitled to purchase them by means of a terminable rental, as in the case of purchases under the Irish Church Act. This would be done through the Land Courts, which would decide on the annual payments to be made and the period for which they are to run, so as to meet the views of both parties. It is the opinion of good authorities that most farmers now hold too much land in proportion to their capital, and that with perfect security of tenure and absolute freedom of action they would reduce their holdings in order to farm more highly and to be able to effect permanent improvements. Some farms would therefore be divided, and remote fields be detached from others, and these would afford land for small holdings or for gardens and fields for labourers.
But much more than this is needed. The crofters and cottiers who have been ejected from their homes, the labourers who have been driven into towns, and all who have been robbed of their ancient rights by the inclosure of commons, require immediate redress. We have seen what beneficial results invariably follow the grant of small plots of land at fair rents and on a secure tenure, and Nationalisation would not deserve the name did it not place this boon within reach of all who desire it. There is no privilege so beneficial to all the members of a community as to have ample space of land on which to live. Surround the poorest cottage with a spacious vegetable garden, with fruit and shade trees, with room for keeping pigs and poultry, and the result invariably is untiring industry and thrift, which soon raise the occupiers above poverty, and diminish, if they do not abolish, drunkenness and crime. Every mechanic and tradesman should also be able to obtain this great benefit whenever he desires it; and this is far too important a matter for the whole community to be left to the chance of land being offered for sale when and where wanted. It is not sufficiently recognised that the use of land for the creation of healthy and happy homes is far higher than its use as a mere wealth-producing agent, in which latter aspect alone it has hitherto been chiefly viewed. To get the greatest benefit from the land of a country it is essential that every inhabitant should be, as far as possible, free to live where he pleases; and to attain this end the right to hold land for cultivation should always be subordinate to the right to occupy it as a home.
To carry these principles into effect, and to allow population to spread freely over the whole country, it is essential that all who desire a permanent home should have some right of free selection (once in their lives) of a plot of land for this purpose. A limit might be placed to the quantity so taken in proportion to the density of the population--near towns perhaps half an acre, in the country an acre or more. Such choice should, of course, be limited to agricultural or waste land, and at first to such land as borders public roads. Other limitations might be, that not more than a fixed proportion of any one farm should be so taken, and that a plot should never be chosen so near the farmer's house as to be an annoyance to him--questions to be decided by the Local Land Courts. Of course this land would be subject to the usual payment of quit-rent to the state according to the official valuation, while the improvements would have to be purchased from the farmer with some small addition as compensation for disturbance.
The effects of such freedom of choice in fixing upon a permanent residence would be gradually to check the increase of towns and to re-populate the [[p. 493]] country districts. Rural villages would begin a natural course of healthy growth, and if the minimum of land to be taken for one house were fixed at an acre (the maximum being four or five acres) these could never grow into crowded towns, but would always retain their rural character, picturesque surroundings, and sanitary advantages. The labourer would choose his acre of land near the farmer who gave him the most constant employment and treated him with most consideration; and besides those who would continue to work regularly at agricultural labour, there would be many with larger holdings or with other means of living, who would be ready to earn good wages during hay or harvest time. With a million of agricultural labourers, each holding an acre or more of land, and at least another million of mechanics doing the same thing, and all permanently attached to the soil by its secure possession, that scandal to our country, the scarcity of milk and the importation of poultry, eggs, and butter from the Continent would come to an end, while the vast sums we now pay for this produce would go to increase the well-being, not only of the labourers themselves, but of all the retail and wholesale dealers who supply their wants. Our most important customers are those at home, and there is no more certain cure for the now chronic depression of trade than a system which would at once largely increase the purchasing power of the bulk of the community.
The question of house property in towns cannot now be discussed, but it may be treated on the same general principles; and I must refer my readers to a new edition of my book on Land Nationalisation, now in the press, where they will find this part of the subject treated in an appendix.
Before concluding this paper, I would wish to point out how easily the principles of land tenure here advocated may be tried on a small scale without interfering with any private rights or interests; and so convinced am I of the soundness of these principles, that I would venture to stake the whole question of the practicability of land nationalisation on the result of such a trial. I would suggest, then, that all crown lands in any degree suitable for cultivation should be thrown freely open to applicants in small holdings for personal occupation, on the tenure which I have just explained; and I would earnestly press some liberal member of Parliament to urge this trial on the Government by means of an annual motion. The result would certainly be a large increase of revenue from these lands, since all expenses of management would be saved; while it is equally certain that the localities would be benefited by the increased well-being of the inhabitants.
In view of such a trial being made, and its further extension being desirable, a resolution should be passed declaring it inexpedient to sell any crown lands or rights over commons; and the next step should be to stop entirely the further inclosure of common lands for the benefit of landlords, a proceeding which the liberal portion of the community has long condemned as legalised robbery of the people. Many of the more extensive commons and heaths far removed from dense centres of population offer the means for a further trial of this system of land-tenure, and creating a considerable body of virtual peasant-proprietors of the best type. For this purpose all manorial rights of individuals should be declared to be (as they certainly are) injurious to the public, and should be at once acquired by the State. Their present owners might either be repaid the purchase money if they had themselves bought them, or be compensated by means of terminable annuities of amounts equal to the actual average net incomes derived from the several manors. Thus would be afforded ample means for a great social experiment, the result of which, if fairly tried, cannot be doubtful.
1. As this has been denied without proof of its inaccuracy it will be well to quote the words of Mr. Joseph Kay, Q.C., author of Free Trade in Land, who says: "The French, the Dutch, the Germans, and the Swiss look with wonder at the enormous fortunes and at the enormous mass of pauperism which accumulate in England side by side. They have little of either extreme." And again he speaks of the astonishment of foreigners at "the frightful amount of absolute pauperism amongst the lowest classes." [[on p. 362]]