Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
for Ireland. (S410a: 1888)
Sir,--I hope you will grant me a little of your space to reply briefly to the article by "An Irishman" in a recent issue of your paper, in so far as he misrepresents, no doubt unintentionally, the opinions and proposals of land-nationalizers. Your contributor states that "the chief objection made by the nationalizers to the conversion of occupiers into owners is that this would be a replacement of the present landlords by a multitude of petty landlords; and to this supposed "chief objection" he replies at length, and then seems to think he has disposed of that part of the question. But, instead of this being our "chief objection," it is but one of a series of objections, and cannot be fairly appreciated except as a part of the series. Our real objections are four in number:--
1. We object to the sale of farms to their present occupiers because it gives to a class the future unearned increment of the land, which is the creation of the community, and by every principle of justice should belong to it. And this gift will not even be distributed over the entire class, but will accrue to certain individuals only; for, as both the population and the prosperity of the country advance--as they certainly will advance under Home Rule and any form of improved land system--certain farms will become the sites of manufactures or mines, as will be required for the growing population of industrial centres, and will then become enormously increased in value. And if the owner refuses to sell, and only lets or leases his land, he may become a wealthy landlord, with all the powers for good or evil of existing landlords.
2. We object to any legislation which does not give to every citizen equal rights to the use of a portion of his native land. Why, we ask, should those who happen to be tenants of existing landlords have the privilege of becoming owners of land, to the exclusion of the whole body of labourers, mechanics, or other Irishmen, who may also desire to have land bought for them by means of British money, and have an equal right to it? Just as the Encumbered Estates Act of a past generation gave the new purchasers of Irish estates a statutory title to all the tenants' improvements on the land, and thus legalized the most cruel robbery, so will the transformation of the present tenants into owners rob the labourers and all who are not tenants of their legal right to use and enjoy a portion of their native soil. For, having once obtained possession of their farms, each of these new landowners will have all the prejudices of our English farmers against allowing labourers to acquire land; and we shall thus permanently divide the country between a landed and a landless class, and surely create in the future a new land problem not less difficult of solution than that which now presents itself.
3. Then, again, we object that even as creating a peasant-proprietary the scheme has no permanence. Whenever one of the new proprietors falls into difficulties he will borrow money on his land from his well-to-do neighbour or from an attorney or a money-lender; and the same process of land-accumulation by individuals will begin which is in full operation in many lands where peasant-proprietorship prevails--especially in France, in Flanders, and in India. Then we shall see a new landlordism worse than the old one, since it is universally admitted that none are such harsh and grasping landlords as the small proprietors who invest their hard-earned savings in buying the land which their less prosperous neighbours are obliged to sell.
4. It may be said, all these evils can be corrected by special legislation: municipalities may acquire land for labourers, taxation may intercept the unearned increment, and mortgaging may be forbidden. But--apart from the objection that all these things require complex and difficult enactments after you have created ownership of the land, but are the direct results of a proper system of state or municipal tenancy--there arises our fourth objection, that such legislation can only take place by the will of the constituencies, and in establishing peasant owners over the whole country we shall have placed a stumbling-block in the way of any such legislation. For none are so tenacious of their rights as small proprietors, and the unlimited increase of their numbers would be the greatest difficulty in the way of all future land reform, or in obtaining for the rest of the community any rights over their native soil.
--I am, &c.,
Alfred R. Wallace,