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

 
 
Some Objections to Land Nationalization Answered
(S585: 1900)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: An essay appearing in Volume Two of Wallace's 1900 collection Studies Scientific and Social constructed largely from portions of pre-existing writings (S385, S423 and S471). Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S585.htm


[[p. (345)]] CHAPTER XIX

    In the present chapter I deal with a few of the most frequent of the objections of those who oppose Land Nationalization, and also discuss a few of the difficulties which are often felt even by those who are fully in sympathy with the principle.

State-tenants versus Freeholders.

    When Nationalization of the Land is advocated, a great many people reply, "I don't see the good of Nationalization, I prefer freeholders to State-tenants." Let us therefore see what are the comparative advantages of the two modes of tenure.

    In order that the greatest number of people may become freeholders, many Liberals advocate the abolition of all restrictions on the sale and transfer of land. They say, make every man who owns land an absolute owner, with power to sell, or divide, or bequeath as he pleases, and plenty of land will come into the market. Then, every one who wants land can buy it, if able to do so; and if the mode of transfer is also made simple and cheap every thing will have been done that need be done. We shall then have free trade in land; there will be no limited or encumbered estates; and capital will flow to land and develop its resources.

    But people who talk thus forget that we have already had two great experiments of this nature, both supported [[p. 346]] by these very arguments, and that both have utterly failed. About forty years ago the dreadful condition of the Irish peasantry was imputed to the prevalence of entailed and encumbered estates the owners of which had no money to spend on improvements, and a most radical measure was passed by which all these estates were brought into the market and sold to the highest bidder. But the result was not as expected. Capital flowed into the country, but with no benefit to any one but the capitalist. English manufacturers and speculators became owners of Irish land, and sometimes laid out money on it; but they were harder landlords than those whom they replaced; they looked upon the land they had bought merely as a means of making money, and utterly ignored the equitable or customary rights of the unhappy tenants. Irish distress was not in the least degree ameliorated by this drastic measure from which so much was expected, and it is now rarely spoken of, while legislation on totally different lines has been found necessary.

    The second example of the utter uselessness of pouring capital into a country so long as the people are denied any right to the use of land is afforded by Scotland. In the early part of this century, the great demand for wool made sheep-farming profitable, and many of the highland landlords were persuaded that they could double their incomes by establishing great sheep-farms on their vast estates. They did so. Many thousands of valuable sheep were introduced; much money was spent in fencing and in building new farmhouses for the lowland farmers, while the rights of the hereditary dwellers on the soil were utterly ignored, and, by a series of barbarous evictions, these poor people were banished to the sea-shore, or forced to emigrate. The result was, for a time, beneficial to the landlords, who proclaimed the scheme a great success; but it was most disastrous to the people, who, ever since, have been kept in a state of serf-like subjection and pauperism. The present condition of the Highlands is a direct consequence of the application of capital to the land by landlords while the rights of the people were ignored; and the result of these two great experiments in Ireland and Scotland should teach us that any similar experiment [[p. 347]] in England cannot possibly lead to good results. It is true the conditions of society in England are different. There are here more capitalists ever competing for the possession of land; but "free trade" would simply enable those wealthy capitalists who desire land to obtain it more easily. What chance would the poor man have against such competitors? With population and wealth and manufactures ever increasing, as they are in England, the poor man will have less and less chance of getting land, so long as it is to be obtained solely by purchase, and there is neither compulsion to sell, nor right to buy at equitable prices.

Effects of Land Monopoly.

    As land is ever getting scarcer in proportion to population, and in private hands must necessarily be a monopoly, it offers the greatest temptation to speculators, who even now frequently buy up estates offered for sale and resell them in small plots at competition prices which no poor man can afford to give; and this will continue to be the case so long as land is treated as a commodity to be bought and sold for profit. We maintain that this is a monstrous wrong and should never be permitted. Land is the first necessary of life, the source of food and of all kinds of wealth, and a sufficiency for health and enjoyment is absolutely needed by every one. It is a political crime to permit land to be monopolized by a few, to allow the wealthy to employ it for mere sport or aggrandisement, while thousands live in misery and have to suffer disease and want because they are denied the right to live and labour upon it.

    In order that all may have equal rights to use and enjoy the land of their birth, it must become, not theoretically only, but actually, the property of the State or Local authority in trust for all; and for all to derive equal advantages from it, those who occupy it must pay a rental to the State for its use. This is the only way to equalise the advantages derived by the several occupiers of land of different qualities and in different situations [[p. 348]] --the only way to enable the whole community to benefit by the increased value which the community itself gives to land.

    The use of land is twofold. Its chief and primary use is to supply to every household in the kingdom, the conditions for healthy existence, and, whenever possible, some portion at least of their daily food. When all are thus supplied with the land necessary for a healthy home, the remainder should be devoted to cultivation in such a way as to produce the maximum of food, and at the same time to support and bring up the maximum number of healthy and happy food- producers. All experience shows that these two things go together, and that in any country the maximum of food is produced when the greatest possible population live upon and by the land. At one extreme we have the great farms of S. Australia and California, cultivated with the minimum of human labour and producing a net return of about ten bushels of wheat per acre, and at the other extreme the allotments of our farm labourers producing food to the value of £40 per acre.

    But in order that our labourers and mechanics may each be enabled to have, say, an acre of land to live on, and an acre or two more to cultivate, if they require it, with the power of getting a small farm of, from ten to forty acres whenever they have obtained money enough to stock it, the land must be let, not sold to them. For at first a man wants all his little capital to enable him to cultivate even the smallest plot of land, and if he has to buy it, even by the easiest instalments, he is to that extent crippled. Moreover it is a bad thing for him to own the land absolutely, because he is then open to the temptations of the money-lender. Instead of economizing and pinching in bad seasons, he borrows money and mortgages his land, and thus falls under a tyranny as bad as that of the hardest landlord. In every part of the world the small freeholder falls a victim to the money-lender.

    As a State-tenant the occupier would have all the essential rights and advantages of a freeholder. His tenure would be practically perpetual. He would have the right to sell or bequeath his holding, or any part of it, [[p. 349]] just as freely. His rent would never be raised on account of any improvement made by himself, but only on account of increased value of the ground-rent, due to the growth of population or other general causes, which would affect all the land around as well as his. He would therefore enjoy all the rights, all the privileges, and all the security which a freeholder enjoys. But he would have this great advantage over the freeholder, that he need not sink one penny of his capital in the purchase of the soil; and thus, for one man who could save money enough to acquire a farm or a homestead by purchase, two or three would be able to become State-tenants, with money in their pockets to stock their land or build their house, and to live upon till their first crops were gathered. Those who maintain the superiority of freeholds, therefore, speak without knowledge; the superiority is all the other way.

    There is one more point to be considered, which is of great importance, that under a general system of small freeholders, one half of these would very soon be ruined by the other half--would be obliged to sell their farms to money-lenders or lawyers, and thus great estates would again monopolize the land. The way this would necessarily come about (as it always has come about) is as follows. Suppose there are a body of peasant-proprietors all over the country. Their land necessarily varies in quality and position, and, therefore, in value from fifteen or twenty shillings an acre up to two, three, or four pounds an acre; and, all being freeholders, none of them pay rent. But the owner of the better land can afford to sell his produce of all kinds at a lower rate than the owner of the inferior land, because prices which will enable the former to live and save money will be starvation to the latter. Hence an unequal competition will arise between the two classes in which the one must necessarily starve out the other. The payment of rent in proportion to the inherent value of the land equalises the position of all. The occupier of poor land at a low rent can fairly compete with the occupier of rich land at a high rent; and thus while a system of small proprietors is sure to fail, a system of small occupiers, [[p. 350]] under the State, combines all the essential elements of stability.1

    Thus far we have considered the question solely from the economical and practical point of view, but the great superiority of State tenants over freeholders is equally apparent when we treat it as a question of justice. Land necessarily increases in value as population and civilization increase, and that increase being the creation of the community at large is justly the property of the community. By a system of State tenants we shall obtain this increase for the benefit of all, by means of a periodical reassessment of the ground rents payable to the State; but if we create a body of small freeholders we shall perpetuate injustice and inequality. A. and B. may acquire two farms at the same cost and may bestow the same labour and skill in the cultivation of them. But in thirty or forty years the value of the two may be very different. Minerals may be discovered or some new industry may spring up causing the farm of A. to become the site of a populous town, while that of B. remains in a secluded agricultural district; so that, while the children of the one are earning their living by honest labour the children of the other may be all living in idleness by means of wealth which they have not created and to which they have no equitable claim, and to the same extent the community at large is robbed of its due. If on the other hand we establish a system of State-tenancy over the whole country, the natural increase of land-value by social development will produce an ever increasing revenue even if existing landlords continue to be paid the incomes they now receive from the land, so that in addition to all the other advantages of the system we shall acquire the means of bringing about a steady diminution of taxation, by which all alike will benefit.

    Briefly to sum up the argument: SMALL FREEHOLDS ARE BAD BECAUSE--

    1. Money must be sunk in the purchase which can be better invested in the cultivation of the soil.

    [[p. 351]] 2. The number of men who can advantageously acquire small farms is therefore greatly reduced.

    3. The unearned increment of the land is taken from the community who create it and is given to individuals.

    4. The inheritors of these small farms of different qualities of land will compete unequally with each other, and those holding the poorer land must sooner or later sell their farms or fall into the hands of the money-lender.

    The system therefore contains within itself the elements of decay and failure.

    In all these respects State-tenancy is greatly to be preferred to small-freeholding, and a general system of State-tenancy can only be secured by a complete Nationalization of the Land.

Land Taxation--Who will Pay it?

    One of the most important points of difference between the followers of Henry George and Land-Nationalizers is on the question whether the landlord can throw the burden of a heavy land- tax upon the tenant. This question has been the subject of much discussion for some years past, and the proposal to tax land-values, especially in large cities and wherever land is held by the owners in expectation of a great rise in value for building purposes, has been generally adopted by the more advanced section of the Liberal party. It therefore becomes very important to ascertain whether such a tax will really fall upon the landlord, or whether it will not, in the course of a few years at furthest, be shifted to the tenant, who will thus be no better off than before.

    The one strong point of the advocates of land-taxation is the appeal to authority. Adam Smith says: "A tax upon ground rents would not raise the rents of houses. It would fall altogether upon the owner of the ground rent, who acts always as a monopolist, and exacts the greatest rent which can be got for his ground."

    Ricardo says: "A tax on rent would fall wholly on the landlords, and could not be shifted to any class of consumers . . . It would leave [[p. 352]] unaltered the difference between the produce obtained from the least productive land in cultivation and that obtained from land of every other quality."

    John Stuart Mill says: "A tax on rent falls wholly on the landlord. There are no means by which he can shift the burden upon any one else."

    Professor Thorold Rogers and most other writers on political economy have followed these great authorities, repeating their statement in slightly modified words; and in many recent articles as well as in discussion in the County Council, either these authorities are accepted as conclusive, or if any attempt is made to prove that the same results would follow the imposition of a 4s. or higher land tax, the logic is at fault, and the attempted proof utterly breaks down. This I shall hope to show in a very few words.

    The whole essence of the question at issue is contained in the concluding words I have quoted from Adam Smith, that the landlord "always acts as a monopolist, and exacts the highest rent which can be got for his land." It follows, therefore, that however much you tax him, however much you impoverish him, you do not, by that act alone, enable him to extract more rent from the tenant, who is not benefited by the landlord's tax. Now this was the only kind of tax contemplated by the early writers. Governments were always in want of money, always seeking to impose new taxes; and having taxed the poor as much as they could bear, if they put a special tax on land the landlord must pay it, since the tenant was already rented and taxed up to the hilt. He could bear no more. Adam Smith, and Ricardo, and Mill never contemplated the case of a landlord-government taxing land, not to supply its own dire necessities, but to relieve the tenant. Such a thing was inconceivable to them, was beyond the range of their practical politics, and therefore they did not deal with it. But this is the very essence of the modern proposal. The 4s. tax is not to be a war-tax, or, what is much the same thing, the money obtained is not to be thrown into the sea. It is not proposed to tax [[p. 353]] the landlords in order to ruin them without benefiting the rest of the community, who are all tenants. That would be pure "cussedness," as our American friends would say. But the tax on landlords is for the express purpose of relieving tenants. Just as the landlords are made poorer by it, the tenants are to be made richer, taxes are to be transferred from tenants to landlords, and would be exactly equivalent to a reduction of rent. What then would happen--the landlord, as Adam Smith says, acting "always as a monopolist and exacting the greatest rent which can be got for his ground?" Is it not absolutely certain that, he being poorer and the tenant richer, he would raise the rent and thus get back the tax he had just paid? Mr. Fletcher Moulton says this is a fallacy. He urges that.

"under the proposed system the ground value will represent the full rental value that the landowner can obtain for the use of his land, unburdened by any rates. This is a sum which will be determined by considerations relating to the land itself, and by these alone. In ascertaining the rental which he can afford to give for the free use of the land, the proposed tenant will not be affected by the question, what portion of that rent will be retained by the landlord, and what proportion will be paid over in rates?"

    Of course he would not; nobody has ever suggested that he would. But Mr. Moulton has slipped in the words, "unburdened by any rates," and thereafter ignores them. Are tenants now "unburdened by any rates?" And if their rates are removed and put on the landlord, does not this affect the tenant's power of paying more rent, and the landlord's power, "acting always as a monopolist," to obtain more rent? Surely the "simple fallacy" is on Mr. Moulton's part, not on ours.

    A writer in the Democrat also trusts mainly to the authorities, and in his arguments also misses the main point. He says: "A tax upon land value, or economic rent, would not raise prices, but would simply transfer to the State a portion or the whole of that premium paid for the use of better land which now constitutes the unearned incomes of the landlords."

    Here, "transferring to the State" is spoken of as if it [[p. 354]] were a foreign State, or a private individual who would spend the money on himself. But the State in this case is the community, consisting almost wholly of tenants who are to benefit directly by reduction of rates and taxes. They would therefore be able to pay higher rents, and the landlord, "acting always as a monopolist," would exact those higher rents so as to bring back the respective position of landlord and tenant to what it was before the tax was imposed.

    The only other argument used--that if it would have the effect we urge the landlords would not object to it, is hardly worth answering. Landlords are not a specially intellectual body of men, and why should they not be blinded by the alleged "authorities" as well as the followers of Mr. George? Besides, there would be some loss to the landlords, especially to those who had granted leases. All we urge is that in a very few years the landlords would necessarily recoup themselves under the inevitable laws of supply and demand, they being left in possession of a monopoly of what is essential to all men. In his "Scheme for the Abolition of Landlordism," in the Westminster Review for May, 1890, Mr. Charles Wicksteed hit the nail on the head by his suggestion that all receipts for taxes on land should be applied in the purchase of land, not in relieving tenants of rates and taxes, and thus prevent the landlords from recouping themselves by raising rents. This simple proposal has satisfied one member of the Land Restoration League that the imposition of the 4s. or any other tax, to be applied in relief of other taxation, would be useless, and would ultimately leave the landlords as much masters of the situation as they are now. It is to be hoped that others will be equally convinced and equally candid in acknowledging it, and thereafter retire from an untenable position.

The Conditions Essential to the Success of Small Holdings.

    As there seems to be considerable difference of opinion on this question, and as success or failure in the first steps towards obtaining free access to land for all who [[p. 355]] desire it is a matter of vital importance, it will be useful to set forth for the consideration of Land-reformers what seem to be the principles which should guide us in this matter.

    I begin with the proposition, which will probably be generally accepted, that the primary object of giving the people free access to land is, to enable as many as possible to obtain either the whole or a portion of their living by its cultivation, and, by thus withdrawing some of them altogether from competition with wage-earners; while by giving others a temporary alternative to wage labour, we shall raise the rate of wages of the less remunerative kinds of work all over the country. And as secondary benefits, we shall have, in the first place, an enormous increase in the production of food, displacing much that is now imported from abroad; secondly, an increased consumption of manufactured goods by these self-supporting workers; thirdly, a diminution in the poors' rate from the disappearance of paupers and out-of-works; and, lastly, a public revenue arising from the continuous increase in the value of land owing to the growth and increased well-being of the population. These various benefits I conceive to be important, somewhat in the order in which I have given them; at all events the first is undoubtedly the most important, while the last--the money profit--is the least important. It is a valuable incidental result, but is not to be sought after as one of the chief ends in itself in depreciation of the other kinds of benefit.

    Now in order that the various good results above enumerated shall be, in their due order, most certainly obtained, it is of the highest importance that the workers who gain access to the soil shall be able, not only to live upon it, but to live well and thrive upon it. We do not want them merely to earn a living as long as they can work, and go to the poor-house in their old age or during sickness; neither do we want them to be ruined by the first bad season, or by any of the chances and misfortunes to which agriculture is especially liable. On the contrary, it is of the highest importance to the whole community that the land-cultivators should be in such a position that [[p. 356]] even in bad years they should not lose, while in average years they should obtain such profits, that, either by increase of the size of their holding or the amount of their stock, their condition should steadily improve, and thus ensure them against poverty in old age. If land-nationalization is to be the success we hope it will be, some such result as this must be aimed at, and we must be sure that we do nothing to prevent its attainment.

    In order to bring about this result two things are especially required--first, a certain amount of knowledge, of experience, of prudence, and of industry in those who obtain these small holdings; in the second place, such very moderate rents and such favourable conditions of tenure as to give them not only a chance but almost a certainty of success. Nothing, in my opinion, is more likely to bring about the failure of the first, and therefore the most important experiments in this direction than the methods usually suggested by politicians, and more or less implied in the various Acts of Parliament, whether already passed or proposed, dealing with this matter. It is, for example, almost always proposed or taken for granted, that before the men can have the land a large cost must be incurred in preparing it for them. We hear of road-making, fencing, draining, and house-building, as if these were absolute necessities; and in addition to all this, it is generally thought that it will be necessary to advance capital to the proposed tenants to enable them to stock and crop their holdings, and support themselves till they get a return from the land. Now I can hardly imagine a more certain way of bringing discredit on the whole system of small holdings--and with it of land-nationalization--than such a method. In the first place, this work of "laying out" and "improvement," when it is not done by the occupiers themselves, but for them, by persons who have no interest in doing the work economically but often the reverse, and who have besides no personal knowledge of what these small cultivators really require, will often be unnecessary work and will always be done in an unnecessarily costly way, and will thus add to the rent of the land, without proportionately increasing its value. Then [[p. 357]] again, the advance of money on loan to men who have never, perhaps, had ten pounds to spend at once in their lives, will in many cases lead to its injudicious expenditure, and be antagonistic to that prudence, thrift, and industry, which are vital to success.

    There is yet another, and a very important objection to such methods as these. All this expenditure of public money by other people than those who are to directly benefit by it, will certainly lead to wastefulness and jobbery, since they constitute that very "management of land by public officials," the evils of which form one of the chief objections to land-nationalization, and which all our proposals and methods have been calculated to avoid. We must therefore never cease to urge that such management is not only unnecessary, but is calculated to defeat the very purpose for which free access to land is required.

    If we consult the reports of the various Royal Commissions on Agriculture we shall find numerous cases of labourers, miners, mechanics, and others, who have become successful cultivators of small holdings and sometimes of considerable farms, often having begun with a lease of waste land which they enclosed, improved, and built houses on, entirely on their own resources and through their own industry; and whenever we find a successful small farmer he has usually worked his way up by some such method. It is an extraordinary thing that whenever it is proposed to allow men to obtain small holdings in England, there is always this talk of "improvements" and "house-building," in addition to giving the land at a fair rent and on a secure tenure; while over a large part of Scotland and Ireland all improvements and all buildings have been done by the tenants themselves, with no security of tenure whatever, so that whenever a misfortune prevents payment of rent--usually rent on the tenants' own improvements--the landlord ejects the poor tenant and confiscates his improvements. The Irish cottar and the Highland crofter ask nothing better than a sufficiency of land at a moderate rent and on a secure tenure. All the perennial misery and often-recurring famine of these [[p. 358]] two countries have arisen from a denial of this very moderate instalment of bare justice; and if we give this easy access to the land to our English workers, they too will ask for nothing else, and will be far more likely to succeed without any attempt to do for them what they will do much better and more economically themselves.

    But we do undoubtedly require some process of selection of the best men for this great experiment in the regeneration of our country; and the natural, self-acting, and therefore best mode of selection, will arise from the fact that no man can take a holding unless he has saved money to stock and crop it, or has such a character for industry, sobriety, and capacity as to induce some friend to advance him the money; while the certainty that he is risking the loss of his own savings if he fail, will be the best guarantee that he will have some amount of intelligence and some agricultural experience. No artificial mode of selection will compare with this. A man may get testimonials to character, but no testimonials can show that he will spend borrowed money prudently, or be able to make a profit on land burdened with unnecessary and costly improvements, which, for his purpose, will often be no improvements at all.

How to fix the Rent.

    We have now to consider the second great essential of success, which is, the rental to be paid for the land and the conditions of tenure. Many of our fellow-workers maintain that the competition-rent offered for land is the best, and in fact the only certain way, of determining its value, and therefore what should be paid for it. From a landlord's or speculator's point of view--considering the money income to be got from the land to be everything, the well-being of the tenants nothing--this is undoubtedly the case; but, from our point of view--looking at the cultivation of the land as leading primarily to the well-being and progressive advancement of the cultivator, and through him the similar advancement of all other manual labourers--it seems to me to be the very worst [[p. 359]] mode possible. Let us therefore consider it a little in detail.

    At the present time, wherever there are allotments to let, there we find it to be the rule that agricultural labourers willingly hire them at a rental per acre, sometimes double, sometimes four or five times as much as is paid by farmers for the same quality of land; and there can be no doubt that if arable land were now offered for allotments and small holdings almost anywhere in England, and the quantity thus offered was not in excess of the demand at the time, it would, if let by auction, realize somewhat similar rentals. Many agricultural labourers, as well as village tradesmen, and mechanics, find it advantageous to them to have land even at these high rents, and there is sufficient land thus held all over the country to afford a guide to the prices at which such land would let by auction, even in quantities of from one to five acres. Now the reason such high rents have been, and are paid, is, simply, that the labourers' wages have been always so low and his condition so miserable, that anything by which he could add two or three shillings a week to his earnings by means of overtime work and the assistance of his wife and family, was eagerly accepted. It was his low standard of living that rendered him willing to pay a rent which left him a mere trifle of profit on his labour; and if he were now offered a small holding on which to live he would be willing (if he could not get it cheaper), to pay a rent which would enable him to live in about the same way as he had hitherto done, but with the chance of occasional better luck and with the satisfaction of being his own master. We see this result very prevalent on the Continent, especially in Belgium and in parts of France, where the price of land, and consequently its rental, is very much higher than with us, and as a consequence the small holders often work harder and live as near the starvation line as our poorly paid agricultural labourers or our rack-rented Irish cottars. It will be said, no doubt, that this arises from the demand for land being greater than the supply, and that if the land were offered in larger quantities, competition [[p. 360]] would be less keen and prices lower. But is it at all likely that for a long time the supply of land will be greater than the demand, accept quite locally, and temporarily? Is it not, on the contrary, almost certain that the demand will, at first and for a long time to come, perhaps always, be greater than the supply? Is it not our contention that the depression of agriculture and the deplorable condition of so many of our workers is due to the denial of access to land, and that when that access is freely given it will bring about the well-being, first of those who cultivate it, and afterwards of all other wage-earners? There will therefore be a constant and ever increasing demand for land; but unless we take care that those who apply for it have it on such terms that they can not only make a good living from it, but also provide for a comfortable old age, the benefits we anticipate will not arise. It is to avoid any such failure, to prevent the recurrence of the miserable spectacle of men being ejected from their holdings for non-payment of high rent; to secure for them something better than a struggle ending in dependence on charity in old age, that I urge the fixing of rents by valuation, taking always the amount paid by prosperous farmers in the same district, rather than that of allotment-holders, as the standard of value. The land when purchased by the local authorities, will be purchased at the farm value, and it can be let at that value at first without loss to the community.

    The above sketch of the reasons why I object to the system of competition-rents sufficiently exhibits the principle on which, in my opinion, our dealings with the land should be founded. But there is also a practical objection to that system--that it would be very unequal in its results, and also that it can hardly be carried out unless based on a preliminary valuation. I presume the advocates of competition-rents do not propose that land should always be let to the highest bidder, without any reserve whatever. For, if so, whenever the intending tenants were less numerous than the lots to be offered, these lots might be let at much less than agricultural rents. No doubt it will be said there must be a reserved [[p. 361]] price for each lot, or group of lots of the same kind of land; but such a reserve cannot be fixed without a careful valuation by an expert; so that we should require two processes both involving some expense, first the valuation then the auction. The result would be, that in some cases, where there happened to be little competition, the land would be let at the reserved rent, while in other cases--perhaps a few months later, and in the same place--similar land would be run up by competition to much higher rents; and this would inevitably lead to dissatisfaction and inequality in the prosperity of the tenants--a dissatisfaction which would compel the authorities to adopt the plan of letting all land at the reserved rent, that is at that fair but low rent which should have been adopted at first.

    I maintain, therefore, that it is essential to adopt from the first the only just and equal method, which is, the valuation of the lots by an expert, founded on what would be fair rents of similar land to a large tenant farmer. These lots, with the rents thus determined, would then be open to selection, either on the system of "first come first served," or if thought fairer, of a ballot for the order of choice on certain fixed days. By either of these two methods, supposing the valuation to be fairly made, there would be no inequality of opportunities, no feeling that either by chance or through any other cause, some of the tenants were paying higher rents than others.

    Another point of some importance is, that men should be allowed to have as much land as they wished, up to a certain limit--say five or ten acres according to circumstances; and also that the land first let should always be that abutting upon roads or lanes, the inner portion of the farms thus let being reserved for some years, so that any man wishing to add to his holding could have it extended by taking a plot or field behind it, thus avoiding the great inconvenience and loss arising from the separation of plots under one holding. In the meantime this central portion of the farm could be let by the year to any adjacent farmer.

    One other point arises in connection with this question--the vital importance of security to the occupier and [[p. 362]] cultivator of land. We want men to be able to form and keep a HOME; to be practically as secure in that home, so long as they pay the moderate ground-rent for the land, as if they were the actual owners of the freehold, subject only to the payment of a tax. We want the new tenants under land-nationalization to be really free-holders in the old sense--free men holding land from the community, never to be interfered with so long as they continued to pay the moderate dues and to be law-abiding citizens. To give this full security all the rights of bequest or sale now appertaining to freehold land should appertain to these State tenancies.

    It is, I believe, only by some such process as that which I have here indicated that we can possibly obtain the full benefit of land-nationalization or of the first steps which we may be able to make towards it. We must always remember that the community will be benefited just in proportion to the well-being of the cultivators and of those who obtain access to land. If we rack-rent them so that they just make a living out of the land, they will have little influence in raising the wages of other workers or in enabling them to make a successful bargain with capitalist employers. But if, on the other hand, we allow all occupiers of land to have it on such terms and conditions that they are able to make a good living, provide well for their families, and enjoy an old age of secure repose in their own homesteads, this state of well-being will serve to establish a standard of living which will react on the whole working population, and lead to a corresponding rise in the rate of wages throughout the whole industrial world. There appears to me to be no proposition in the domain of political and social science more certain than this. On the other hand, no mistake can be more fatal than to think that the community would be benefited by screwing from twenty to fifty per cent. more rental from the occupiers of land, thus reducing their profits, rendering their position less secure, lowering their standard of living, and with it that of the whole working population, and often creating a body of prospective paupers.

    [[p. 363]] In conclusion, therefore, I would, urge most strongly, that in all arrangements or proposals with regard to the land, we should throw aside altogether the idea of getting the highest possible rents, but should always aim at the maximum of well-being for the cultivators. By thus acting we shall best secure the equal well-being of the whole of the industrial community, and shall initiate that progressive improvement, with the diminution and ultimate abolition both of enforced idleness and of undeserved poverty, which is the whole aim and object of Land Nationalization.


Note Appearing in the Original Work

    1. This danger has been attempted to be obviated on the Continent by the farms consisting of scores or hundreds of scattered patches of land of different qualities. But this system renders economical cultivation impossible, and the remedy is worse than the disease. [[on p. 350]]


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