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

Alfred Russel Wallace, D.C.L., F.R.S., &c.
(S531: 1896)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Wallace's response to a circular sent out by the Land Nationalisation Society to its Council members. Printed in the November 1896 issue of Land and Labour. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S531.htm

     [[p. 82]] At the last Annual General Meeting of the L.N.S., the feeling was generally expressed that the time had come for greater attention being paid to methods of land nationalisation, in order that the Society might be prepared, when called upon, to suggest some practical scheme by which their objects might be obtained. As a preliminary to the discussion of this question a circular was sent to all members of the L.N.S. Council requesting them to favour the Executive Committee with their opinion of the relative merits of four methods of dealing with dispossessed landlords, all more or less involving compensation, which have at different times been suggested, namely:--

     (1) By means of Annuities for lives, as explained by Dr. Wallace in his "Land Nationalisation."

     (2) By means of land-bonds bearing interest equal to landlords' nett income, redeemable by means of the expected increase of land values, as explained by Mr. Charles Wicksteed in his "Land for the People," and accepted by Dr. Wallace in tract No. 16 "Note on Compensation."

     (3) By means of land-bonds equal to the capital value of the land, bearing interest at the current rate of Government stock, and redeemable by means of the difference between that rate and the rental value of the land, as explained in two articles by Mr. H. G. Moberly in Land and Labour for January and March, 1894.

     (4) By means of a tax of 4s. in the £, imposed on the unearned increment of land values since 1692, the proceeds to be used for buying land, landlords being required to assess their own land, and the State exercising the option of taxing the land or buying it at the landlords' valuations.

     A considerable number of replies have already been received, and we think that there is a very fair prospect of a common denominator being found, which will enable the Society, without of course binding itself, to put forward a really practical scheme. The subject is a very important one, and in order to stimulate discussion it is thought desirable to print some of the more important replies, or extracts from them, in these columns. This month we have only room for one, by our respected President.


     It is quite clear, that, for many years to come, our only method of obtaining land for the people's use will be, by successive amendments to the Local Government Acts, rendering purchase compulsory and on easier terms. Our proposed "Method of Land Nationalisation," therefore, is not a scheme for an Act of Parliament to be immediately brought before the House of Commons, but must be an educational instrument, calculated to enlighten the public, and show clearly both the justice and the advantages, as well as the practicability of our proposals.

     From this point of view I think there are objections to all the methods stated in Mr. Moberly's circular, but that a modification of our original plan will be decidedly the best. The objection to all financial methods is, first, that they recognise that the land must be purchased from existing holders; and, secondly, that they lead to an enormous issue of annuities, bonds, or other securities thus enlarging the field for investment and speculation, which it is the object of every advanced social reformer to reduce as rapidly as possible.

     Again, none of these four proposed methods are founded on any sufficiently broad general principle, which is essential, if we are to attract thinkers to our cause, and which alone will enable us to limit the range of our methods and thus more readily attain to unanimity.

     Within the last decade such a general principle has been laid down by two writers--one of them of the very highest reputation--and has received the expressed or tacit assent of most writers in the Press, and of a large proportion of philosophical thinkers. This principle is that of "equality of opportunity" as propounded in Herbert Spencer's "Justice" and in Mr. Kidd's "Social Evolution."

     Now "equality of opportunity" is clearly opposed to all such inheritance of property as may enable the inheritor to live his life in idleness; and it therefore justifies us in declaring that all landed property shall revert to the State on the death of the actual present owner, on the double ground that land is really the property of the nation, and has always been acquired by individuals in the first place, by force or fraud or unjustifiable gift [[p. 83]] from the Crown; and that its private ownership is immoral, in that it gives the owner power to live himself in idleness on the labour of his fellows, and also allows him to forbid his fellow men to labour on the land except on such terms and conditions as he may impose.

     Here we have, I think, a very strong position which we may hope to get accepted by many who do not yet see their way to Land Nationalisation, and it is the stronger because it only recognises that personal ownership which has always been recognised by the law; while, as regards the heirs, it places the nation at large in the place of the individual owner, who is allowed to disinherit his direct heirs if he chooses.

     Another advantage of this method is, that it is equally applicable to the Railways, the National Debt, and all other property, which may be nationalised in the same way when the time is ripe for it; and it thus gets us out of the dilemma, so often put to us, of the two men who invest their money, one in land and one in funds. We urge its application first to the land for the reasons given above, and as we can show that the operation of our proposed law would rob no one, would injure no one, and would enormously benefit the whole community, I think we may fairly expect, if we urge it unanimously, to gradually obtain its acceptance by all advanced thinkers.

     The terms of the proposal would be, that, on the death of each owner all landed property reverts to the State, which will act in loco parentis to the children and dependants of the late owner, providing them all with that education and start in life which he would probably have given to his younger sons. The administration of the land thus acquired to be placed in the hands of the local authorities for the benefit of all, and the revenues from it to be shared between the local and the central governments.

     I believe that this proposal would excite less opposition, even from landowners themselves, than most other modes of land nationalisation; while its extreme simplicity, its freedom from all finance and speculation, its immediate effect from the annually recurring deaths of numbers of great land-holders, and its being founded on a general ethical principle which is already widely accepted, render it well adapted to secure the assent of the great body of advanced social reformers.

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