by Robert Blatchford
CLARION PAMPHLET No. 23.
I HAVE little that is new to say on the subject of Land Nationalisation. Nearly all that needs be said has been said already, and said well. The most I can do is to repeat old truths and condense established facts so as to present the case clearly, simply, and concisely. The best result can hope for is that my readers will be sufficiently interested in the subject to study it fully for themselves. In case this hope should be realised I shall, before I begin my own essay, beg to suggest that those who wish to master the subject of Land Nationalisation will do well to read the following books:
- “Progress and Poverty.” By Henry George.
- “Land Nationalisation.” By Alfred Russel Wallace.
These two books afford a clear and comprehensive view of the Land Question, which is a question that it behoves every British citizen to comprehend.
What do we mean when we advocate the Nationalisation of Land? We mean that the land, which is now the private property of a few, should become the common property of all. We mean that the land, having become the common property and the common heritage of the whole people, should be managed and employed by the people or their deputies in such a manner as the people may hold to be expedient and just.
On this subject of the use of the land after nationalisation there are many misconceptions, of which the commonest are the belief that—
- The land is to be divided and parcelled out amongst the whole population in the proportion of acres per head or per family.
- The land is to be divided into large estates, which are to be managed by Government officers.
No one who has seriously studied the subject of Land Nationalisation would accept either of these plans.
What most Land Nationalisers propose is that the land, having become the property of the people, should be let by the people’s agents for building, agriculture, mining, and other purposes to the highest bidder, just as it now is; but with this difference, that the rent should go into the public pocket, instead of going, as it does to-day, into the pockets of a few landlords, and that all improvements and erections should be and remain the private property of the tenants.
This, of course, is not Socialism—it is Land Nationalisation.
Having explained what is meant by Land Nationalisation, the next question to answer is the question of why we advocate the nationalisation of the land.
I am in favour of Land Nationalisation for two reasons.
- Because it is just.
- Because it is for the general good.
First, as to the justice of the matter. We maintain that private ownership of land is unjust, because the land, being the gift of God, and in no sense the production or creation of man’s labour, it follows that no man can have any moral right to exclude other men from the enjoyment or use thereof. In short, the cry “The land for the people” may be paraphrased in the demand, “England for the English”—a demand that carries right and reason on the face of it.
There are three chief grounds upon which landowners have based their claim to the land.
Land may be claimed by any individual as his own on the plea that—
- He has conquered it, or taken it by force.
- He has received it as a gift; or,
- He has bought and paid for it.
First, as to the right of conquest. When one man takes a thing from another by force we call the act an act of robbery, and there is no moral warrant for robbery.
Robbery, whether by force or stealth, by tribe or class, by individual or by a nation, is still robbery and still wrong.
The very men who claim land as theirs by right of former conquest would be the first to deny the right of conquest to others. A modern duke holds land taken by the Normans eight centuries ago. He holds it by virtue of the fact that his ancestors stole it—or, as the duke would say, “won it.” But let a party of tramps propose to win it from him in the same way, and the duke would scream out, “Theft! theft! theft!” and call for the protection of the law.
In this connection I may be forgiven for repeating an old story, my excuse being its aptness.
A nobleman stops a tramp, who is crossing his park, and orders him off his land. The tramp asks him, how came the land to be his? The noble replies that he inherited it from his father. “How did he get it?” asks the tramp. “From his father,” is the reply; and so the lord is driven back to the proud days of his origin—the Conquest. “And how did your great, great, great etc., grandfather get it?” asks the tramp. The nobleman draws himself up and replies, “He fought for it and won it.” “Then,” says the unabashed vagrant, beginning to remove his coat, “I will fight you for it.”
The right of conquest only gives the right to hold a booty by force of arms, with risk of losing it to the first robber strong enough to win it.
Next, as to the second and third grounds for individual right in land—that the claimant has bought the land and paid for it, or has received it as a gift. These two pleas we may deal with together, for they both stand or fall by the proof as to the rights to the land of the giver or seller.
It is manifest that no man can have a moral right to anything given or sold to him by another person who had no moral right to the thing given or sold.
He who buys a watch, a horse, a house, or any other article from one who has no right to the horse, or house, or watch must render up the article to the rightful owner, and lose the price or recover it from the seller.
If a man has no moral right to own land, he can have no moral right to sell or to give it.
If a man has no moral right to sell or to give land, then another man can have no moral right to keep land bought or received in gift from him.
If, therefore, we can prove that no man can under any circumstances have a moral right to the land, it follows that the claims of gift and purchase must follow the right of conquest as untenable.
Now, there is only one moral right by which a human being can claim a thing as his own, and that is the right of creation.
If a man write a book, or invent a loom, or paint a picture, or make a coat, he may claim the book, the invention, the picture, or the coat as his by virtue of the fact that he made it.
So if a man, or his ancestors, had designed and built the world, he would have a moral right to call it his.
But as no man did make the land, so no man can have a moral right to call the land his own.
And, as a man has no moral right to give or to sell that which is not his own, the pleas in favour of private property in land, that it was bought and paid for, or received as a gift, are proved to be false pleas, and the private ownership of land is proved to rest upon the moral sanction of any kind what-ever.
There is neither justice nor reason in private ownership of land, any more than there would be in the private ownership or class monopoly of the sea or the air.
Imagine a King or Parliament granting to an individual the exclusive ownership of the Bristol Channel or the air of Cornwall! Such a grant would rouse the ridicule of the whole nation. The attempt to enforce such a grant would cause a revolution.
But in what way is such a grant more iniquitous or absurd than is the claim of a private citizen to the possession of Monsall Dale, or Sherwood Forest, or Covent Garden Market, or the cornlands of Essex, or the iron ore of Cumberland.
The Bristol Channel, the River Thames, all our highroads, and most of our bridges, are public property, free for the use of all. No power in the kingdom could wrest a yard of the highway nor an acre of green sea from the possession of the nation. It is right that the road and the river, the sea and the air should be the property of the people. It is expedient that they should be the property of the people. Then by what right or by what reason can it be held that the land—England herself—should belong to any man, or by any man be withheld from the people—who are the English nation?
Having shown the immorality, let us now inquire into the expediency of private ownership of the land. Is it better for the nation that England should be the private property of a few, or that she should be the common heritage and possession of the whole people? Socialists and Land Nationalises maintain that the general prosperity, happiness, and security of the nation would be greatly enhanced were the land held by the State and administered in the interests of the whole people instead of being held, as it now is, by a few irresponsible individuals who manage, or rather mismanage, it with a view to their own profit and pleasure.
Now, in considering the question of the expediency of national as opposed to private ownership, the first thing we have to do is to realise the fact that land, like air and water, is one of the essential elements of human life.
Not only can there be no wealth without land, there cannot even be human life without land. Hence, in surrendering to a class, or to any individual, the sole ownership of the land, we are actually giving to that class, or to those individuals, the right to decide not only whether the nation shall be rich or poor, but also whether the nation shall continue to exist.
Everything we have—food, clothing, shelter, tools—comes from the land, and must be got from the land by labour.
Iron, coal, timber, bread, meat, fruit, vegetables, all that we eat, drink, wear, or use is got from the land by labour, and by labour is worked up into usefulness.
Without these things we cannot live; without the land we cannot have these things.
If, then, all the land belongs to one man, the rest of the nation are in his power and at his mercy, and can only live by his permission, and can only thrive, enjoy, or prosper within limits of his prescribing.
Here is a drawing of a table, on which stand a decanter and a tumbler. Suppose that table to be England, suppose the decanter to be a landlord, suppose the tumbler to be a farmer; suppose, now, that the whole of the land is the property of that landlord, and that the farmer owns nothing but his own strength and skill, how is the farmer to get a living without the landlord’s permission?
The farmer cannot live without food. He cannot get food except from the land. He cannot use the land without the consent of the landlord.
Therefore, the farmer can only live by the landlord’s favour.
Carry the illustration a step further. The landlord cannot live without food, and can only get food from the land by dint of labour. But the landlord does not wish to labour. Therefore he employs the farmer to labour for him, and the bargain runs: “You may use my land on condition that you give me all you get out of it, in return for which I will allow you enough food to keep you alive.”
By virtue of this arrangement the landlord does nothing and lives well, and the tenant works hard and lives sparely.
There you have the idea of private ownership in a nutshell.
Let us suppose that the decanter and the tumbler are both farmers, and that they share the land between them. Each then owns a half of England, and each tills his own land and supports himself by his own labour.
Under these arrangements both are free, both are independent; neither is idle, neither is overworked. There in a nutshell you have the idea of land nationalisation.
In all countries and in all ages those who have been permitted to hold the land have used that land for their own profit, or their pleasure, with little or no regard to the welfare of the nation.
The first evil of private ownership lies in the imposition of rent. Rent is a price paid to a landlord for permission to use the land. The payment of rent implies the existence of an idle landowner and a landless worker, and marks the first step towards the existence of luxury and poverty, of privilege and dependence. It is not needful to go into an elaborate consideration of the economist’s “law of rent.” The dry and complex theories of Ricardo are little to the purpose. One law of rent will be found almost invariable; it is the law that, where rent is paid to a landlord, one man gets wealth without working, while another pays wealth for the permission to work. Here I will use another homely diagram—
… Drawing of a square …
The square is a piece of land divided into two estates. The stars represent two men, each of whom owns one estate, which he farms. Now, it is evident that each of these men, in return for his labour, will have the produce of one estate.
But suppose one of these men owns the whole of the land and lets it to the other. Then the diagram will stand thus:
… Drawing of a square …
There is one estate and one worker. The one worker has to do the work formerly done by two workers; but he does not get all the produce formerly got by the two workers. No, he has to pay half the produce in rent.
Thus we see that the landowner gets half the produce without doing any work at all, while the tenant gets half the produce and does twice as much work as before. There is the theory of rent in a very small compass.
But that is only an example of simple rent, as where a landowner charges his fellow-countrymen a fee for the use of their own country. There is a more evil and usurious form of rent, known to economists as “unearned increment.”
I need hardly remind my readers that rents are higher in large towns than in small villages. Why? Because land is more “valuable.” Why is it more valuable? Because there is more trade done.
Thus a plot of land in the City of London will bring in a hundredfold more rent than a plot of the same size in some Scottish valley. For people must have lodgings, and shops, and offices, and works in the places where their business lies. Cases have been known in which land, bought for a few shillings an acre, has increased within a man’s lifetime to a value of many guineas a yard.
This increase in value is not due to any exertion, genius, or enterprise on the part of the landowner. It is entirely due to the energy and intelligence of those who made the trade and industry of the town.
The landowner sits idle, while the Edisons, the Stephensons, the Jacquards, Mawdsleys, Bessemers, and the thousands of skilled workers expand a sleepy village into a thriving town, but when the town is built, and the trade is flourishing, he steps in to reap the harvest. He raises the rent.
He raises the rent, and evermore raises the rent, so that the harder the townsfolk work, and the more the town prospers, the greater is the price he charges for the use of his land. This extortionate rent is really a fine inflicted by idleness on industry. It is simple plunder, and is known by the technical name of unearned increment.
It is unearned increment which condemns so many of the workers in our British towns to live in narrow streets, in back-to-back cottages, in hideous tenements. It is unearned increment that keeps vast areas of London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, and all our large towns, ugly, squalid, unhealthy, and vile. And unearned increment is an inevitable outcome and an invariable characteristic of the private ownership of land.
Nor is the mere raising of rents the only form of unearned increment extant. There are other forms of the thing to which the word plunder still more accurately applies. The chiefest of these forms is the confiscation of improvements. A tenant takes a house at a ground rental of £50 and proceeds to improve it. The ground landlord doubles his rent. A shop- keeper takes a shop, and finding it convenient sets about to improve it. He spends hundreds of pounds upon it, and doubles its value. The landlord makes him pay the increased rent which his improvements have made it possible to charge for the shop. Here is an example, quoted by Dr. Wallace, from the Echo;
To the Editor of the “Echo.”
Sir,—Through the medium of your valuable columns allow me space to explain my grievance. Two years ago I purchased a house on the Portman Estate (eighteen years’ lease) at £10 10s. per annum. I spent more than £300 to put it into tenantable repair, thinking that I should get a renewal at a fair ground rent. I applied, and the agent came to inspect the premises, and a few days after sent me the terms, as follows: Lease for thirty-four years, ground rent to be £80 instead of £10; fine £1,000 renewal, to be paid from the day of application, or 5 per cent. interest on the £1,000 from that date, which would be principal and interest for eight years, £1,400; improvements to be done as stated in agreement, amounting to about £500, before a new lease is granted; all Viscount Portman’s solicitor’s fees to be paid by me. For the simple drawing of this agreement I paid £15. The last year of the thirty-four years’ lease the house to be re-decorated throughout; the property to be insured by me in the Portman Fire Office. Upon remonstrating at the exorbitant terms, I received a letter from the agent that I could accept them or not, but in the event of my not accepting, I should not have any further opportunity of applying.
Now, sir, what right can the landlord have to take away my house? He has never spent 1d. towards its improvement. Of course, the ground has increased in value, but that is through the trades-people and not through the landlord. The ground rent is increased eight times; then what right has the landlord to demand £1,400 for a house that I bought, and what right has he to dictate improvements that I have to pay for, so that after the expiration of a few years he may get larger premises, and another larger premium, without him spending a fraction, not even to pay the solicitor for getting the money? It seems incredible that people endure such extortion without seeking redress. I trust that others who are suffering the same wrong will come forward, so that effective action may be taken to alter the law, which beggars trades-people to enrich the aristocracy.
A similar state of affairs exists in the country, where the farms are let chiefly on short leases. Here the tenant improves his land and loses his improvements, or, for fear of losing the improvements, does not improve his land nor even farm it properly. In either case the landlord is enriched while the tenant or the public suffers.
Indeed, it is very certain that this custom of confiscating the improvements is a cause of bad farming, and so decreases the yield of the land and often causes the ruin of the farmer.
It has been claimed that although the landlords take immense sums in the form of rent from the earnings of the nation, yet, as they spend this money, they really do good by finding employment for the people. This is one of the most impudent fallacies that was ever fostered by a foolish or dishonest Press.
The answer to it is so simple, so apparent, and so conclusive. The tenant earns the rent. The landlord spends it. If the tenant had not to pay the rent he could spend it himself, and so it would get spent and get spent by the man who earns it, and has the best right to spend it.
To put forward the plea that rent is excusable because the landlord spends it is to insult the intelligence of the people. It is as though a man should come to a farmer, a shopkeeper, or a mechanic, and say, “You give me five shillings out of every pound you earn and I will spend it in the public-house, or on the racecourse, or at the tailor’s, or the jeweller’s, and so will find employment for a number of potmen, bootmakers, jockeys, tailors, and diamond-cutters.”
That is what it really means. It is said that £6,000,000 a year is spent on hunting, and £8,000,000 on horse-racing. Cigars are sold at 7s. 6d. each, and champagne at 40s. a bottle. One lady had £6,000 worth of furs, and paid £90 a year for their storage. And all this has to be paid for by the farm labourer and the dweller in the slum tenement, who must live on the coarsest food because rents are so high. A nobleman draws £100,000 a year in rent from his tenants and spends it on vintners, flunkeys, jockeys, dancers,- milliners, touts, upholsterers, and various retainers, entertainers, and hangers-on. What boots this outlay to the men who earn the rent? They get no pleasure, ease, or profit from it all. They work for the money, and the nobleman and his retainers enjoy it.
Singers, artists, tailors, brewers, jewellers—all these are useful persons; but why should they not be employed and enjoyed by the folk who really earn the wages on which they now live? Perhaps if the farm labourers spent that £6,000 in furs, fewer labourers’ wives would go a-cold, and the £90 a year now spent in rent for storage might be saved.
Neither can the charity of rich landlords be taken in excuse for the evils of private ownership, for were there no landlords there would be less poverty to relieve.
Indeed, it would be difficult to find one valid reason in support of the present iniquitous land system. But when we come to evidences against the system they are as plentiful as fools in a crowd.
The extortions and evictions of landowners in the country whereby the labourer is divorced from the soil, and with no hope for himself but hard work and poor pay in his strength, and the workhouse when he fails, have the effect of driving large numbers of farm labourers into the over-congested towns, there to compete for work in the labour market.
When labourers or factory workers, through increased efficiency of machinery or one of the often recurring “gluts” or “panics” in the commercial world, are thrown out of employment, they have neither home to go to nor land to till, because the land and the houses are all in the hands of idlers or rack-renters. Thus we see that the landlords are directly responsible for the ugly problem of the “unemployed.”
I have already shown how the greed of the rent-wringers operates in the towns, forcing up rents to such a pitch that only the best paid of the workers can afford decent homes. So that the landlords are directly responsible for “the slums.” Now, an institution which is at once responsible for the unemployed and the slums may be condemned without further evidence as inexpedient. But the case against private ownership is not yet completed. Landlords, especially in rural districts, have the labourers practically under subjection. The landlord, having the power to deprive the labourer of his home and his work, is able to interfere, and does interfere, with the political, social, and religious liberty of those resident or employed on his estate. This keeps the labourer still half a serf. The moral effect of this upon the peasantry is bad. Being poor and de- pendent, the farm labourer remains ignorant and helpless.
Insecurity of tenure, as already shown, has a bad effect on agriculture. Tenants will not make improvements which they are sure to be charged higher rent for and in the end to lose.
Landlords may, and do, evict tenants—even to clearing out whole villages or large districts—when it seems more profitable (to the landlord) to use the land for sport or for grazing than for cultivation. The history of the clearances in Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland affords bitter proof of the effects of irresponsible private ownership of land. On this subject I will quote from Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace’s excellent book “Land Nationalisation”:
Mr. Jonathan Pim, in his “Condition and Prospects of Ireland” (1848), says: “Sometimes ejectments have been effected on a large scale. The inhabitants of whole villages have been turned adrift at once without a home to go to, without the prospect of employment, or any certain means of subsistence.” And one of the witnesses before the Devon Commission thus describes the condition of many of these poor people and the general results of that “consolidation of farms” which landlords and agents are said to approve so highly:” It would be impossible for language to convey an idea of the state of distress to which the ejected tenantry have been reduced, or of the disease, misery, and even vice which they have propagated in the towns wherein they have settled; so that not only they who have been ejected have been rendered miserable, but they have carried with them and propagated that misery. They have increased the stock of labour, they have rendered the habitations of those who received them more crowded, they have given occasion to the dissemination of disease, they have been obliged to resort to theft and all manner of vice and iniquity to procure subsistence; but, what is perhaps the most painful of all, a vast number of them have perished of want.”
Nor are these cruel evils confined to Ireland. A little more than half a century ago the estate of the Marquis of Stafford in Sutherland, comprising 800,000 acres, or about two-thirds of the whole county, was forcibly cleared of a population of 15,000 herdsmen and farmers, in order to turn it into enormous sheep farms, with a shepherd per square mile. Other landlords have since followed this example, till about 2,000,000 of acres, once crowded with farms and cottages in all the valleys, are now reduced to a vast desert wholly given to sheep-runs and deer-forests. The amount of misery and destitution, and the various physical and social evils produced by this depopulation of the Highlands will be sketched in another chapter. We here adduce it only as an example of that terrible power over their fellow-creatures which absolute property in land gives to individuals who possess large estates; and that this power is actually used with the most unsparing rigour, sometimes to obtain an increased or a more certain rental, sometimes in pursuance of views sup- posed to be in accordance with the teachings of political economy, sometimes merely to provide an extensive hunting-ground.
The political and economic effects of such ruthless disturbances scarcely need pointing out. The barbarity and greed of Irish landlords have cost England many millions in police pay and military movements, have helped to overcrowd the English labour market, and have heaped up to overflowing the hatred of the Irish exiles and their children the whole world over.
The eviction of the crofters has ousted a race of loyal and noble people from their homes, and left the country they had so long inhabited without tillers or defenders. In which conclusion I cannot help recalling the words of poor Spence: “If I were called upon to defend a country in which I own no foot of land I would throw down my musket. Let the Duke of Hamilton and the rest who claim the country as theirs defend it.”
It is a fact that the only right a British citizen possesses by virtue of his birth is the right to walk on the public roads. But he may not sleep or even loiter there, or he will be imprisoned as a vagrant. All the most beautiful parts of our island are private property, to which the public are only admitted, when they are admitted at all, on sufferance.
In our great towns there are many thousands of able-bodied men without employment; and in Essex and other counties, there are many thousands of acres of good land lying tenantless and out of cultivation. It is landlordism which makes it impossible to bring the idle men and the idle acres together.
The existence of landlordism is responsible for the existence of a class of idle, rich men, whose sons, by virtue of privilege and means, hold a virtual monopoly of all the professions, government appointments, and other posts of honour and emolument.
The exaction of royalties on mineral deposits raises the price of coal, and places our coal and iron trades at a disadvantage in the competition for foreign trade.
The two most direct and palpable evils of our landlord system are the extortion of rent and the confiscation of improvements. On these two points I strongly advise my readers to consult the book of Dr. Wallace. In this volume will be found evidence of the most damning kind against the system now in force in this country. I feel perfectly satisfied that a general acquaintance with Dr. Wallace’s work would create such a public opinion in England against landlordism as would bring the question of land nationalisation at once within the pale of practical politics. The crimes perpetrated in Scotland and in Ireland by landlords and their agents are so black and cruel that it is the duty of every British citizen to make himself acquainted with them. The evidence, collected from all countries and ages, as to the inexpediency of allowing the cultivators or occupiers of the land to be plundered and interfered with by a few irresponsible and use- less landlords is so exhaustive and conclusive that it seems to me unnecessary to say more on the subject in this article, than that the whole case is fully and clearly presented in “Land Nationalisation.” When I have advised you to read that book I have said the very wisest and best thing I can say in favour of the restoration of the land to the people. I take the liberty, therefore, of repeating that this decisive book is published by Swan, Sonnenschein, and Company., London, at 1s.
In all countries where security of tenure exists—where the tenant is not exposed to continual increase of rent and early confiscation of his improvements or erections—the agriculture is better, the tenants are more moral and more prosperous, and the percentage of vagrancy and pauperism is lower.
In all countries and in all ages where the iniquitous system allowed in these islands has been in vogue there have been the terrible phenomena of luxury and misery, great wealth and fearful poverty, degradation and pride.
In the whole field of political and social science (says Dr. Wallace) there is no induction so complete and so universal as that which connects landlordism and tenancy with a pauperised and degraded population, occupying ownership with a thriving and contented one.
And after all their crimes the landlords—the men who have stolen more than 7,000,000 acres of common lands, the men who have turned communities out of house and home, who have inflicted fines upon the industry of the workers, who have turned thousands of industrious men and women into vagrants, who have driven millions into exile, who have perverted loyalty and changed good citizens into bitter enemies, who have fed their dirty pride and decked out their puerile pomp by means of shillings wrung from the slum dweller and the hungry cotter—those immaculate moralists, the landlords, at the first hint of reform or of restitution have the effrontery to raise the cry of “Confiscation!”
According to these gentry it is “confiscation” to compel them to sell their land to the State at a moderate price. It is “confiscation” to compel a duke to relinquish his hold upon London or Derbyshire at a price which would keep him and his in luxury for fifty years. To show you what a hollow sham this landlord’s appeal to national honesty is I will first quote a few lines from a pamphlet by Mr. T. Walters, in which is given an account of an eviction, and I will then show the contrast between the law as it affects land and the law as it affects the author and inventor.
The horrid scenes that I then witnessed I must remember all my life long. The wailing of women; the screams, the terror, the consternation of children; the speechless agony of honest, industrious men, wrung tears of grief from all who saw them. I saw the officers and men of a large police force, who were obliged to attend on the occasion, cry like children at beholding the cruel sufferings of the very people whom they would be obliged to butcher had they offered the least resistance. The heavy rains that usually attend the autumnal equinoxes descended in cold, copious torrents throughout the night, and at once revealed to those houseless sufferers the awful realities of their condition. I visited them next morning, and rode from place to place administering to them all the comfort and consolation I could. The appearance of men, women, and children, as they emerged from the ruins of their former homes—saturated with rain, blackened and besmeared with soot, shivering in every member from cold and misery—presented positively the most appalling spectacle I ever looked at. The landed proprietors in a circle all round—and for many miles in every direction—warned their tenantry, with threats of direct vengeance, against the humanity of extending to any of them the hospitality of a single night’s shelter. Many of these poor people were unable to emigrate with their families; while at home the hand of every man was thus raised against them. They were driven from the land on which Providence had placed them; and, in the state of society surrounding them, every other walk of life was rigidly closed against them. What was the result? After battling in vain with privation and pestilence, they at last graduated from the workhouse to the tomb, and in little more than three years nearly a fourth of them lay quietly in their graves.
That is an example of the morality and humanity of the brigands who are so ready to raise the cry of “Confiscation.” And now let us look into the question of the law as it affects books and patents.
As argued at the beginning of this article, no man can justly claim payment for the use of the land, for no man has made the land. But if a man invent a new machine or a new process, or if he write a poem or a book, he may claim to have made the invention or the book, and may justly claim payment for the use of them by other men.
An inventor or an author has, therefore, a claim to payment for his work, but a landlord has no claim to payment for the use of the land he calls his. Now, how does the law act towards these men?
The landlord may call the land his all the days of his life, and at his death may bequeath it to his heirs. For a thousand years the owners of an estate may charge rent for it, and at the end of the thousand years the estate will still be theirs, and the rent will still be running on and growing ever larger and larger. And at any suggestion that the estate should lapse from the possession of the owners and become the property of the people, the said owners will lustily raise the cry of “Confiscation.”
The patentee of an invention may call the invention his own, and may charge royalties upon its use for a space of fourteen years. At the end of that time his patent lapses and becomes public property without any talk of compensation or any cry of confiscation. Thus the law holds that an inventor is well paid by fourteen years’ rent for a thing he made him-self, while the landlord is never paid for the land he did not make.
The author of a book holds the copyright of the book for a period of forty-four years, or for his own life and seven brigands who are so ready to ranse the cry of “Confiscation.” of that time the book becomes public property. Thus the law holds that an author is well paid by forty-four years’ rent for a book which he has made, but that the landlord is never paid for the land which he did not make. If the same law that applies to the land applied to books and to inventions, the inheritors of the rights of Caxton and Shakespeare would still be able to charge—the one a royalty on every printing press in use, and the other a royalty on every copy of Shakespeare’s poems sold. Then there would be royalties on all the looms, engines, and other machines, and upon all the books, music, engravings, and what not, so that the cost of education, recreation, travel, clothing, and nearly everything else we use would be enhanced enormously. But, thanks to a very wise and fair arrangement, an author or an inventor has a good chance to be well paid, and after that the people have a chance to enjoy the benefits of his genius.
Now, if it is right and expedient thus to deprive the inventor or the author of his own production after a time, and to give the use thereof to the public, what sense or justice is there in allowing a landowner to hold land and to draw an ever-swelling rent to the exclusion, inconvenience, and expense of the people for ever? And by what process of reasoning can a landlord charge me, an author, with immorality or confiscation for suggesting that the same law should apply to the land he did not make that I myself cheerfully allow to be applied to the books I do make?
For mere land-grabbers and rent-wringers to speak of “confiscation” in the face of the laws of patent and of copyright seems to me the most blatant impudence. And yet I think few land nationalisers to-day are inclined to demand that the land should be taken from its present holders without payment. For my own part I say get the land—get it at the lowest price you can, but get it.
How to get it. There are many plans; one of them you will find explained at length in the book by Mr. Wicksteed, mentioned at the head of this article. Another, pretty similar, is given by Dr. Wallace in his book. I think the simpler the plan the better. What seems to me an easy and natural way is the passing of a compulsory Purchase Act by virtue of which the State could compel landlords to sell their land to the nation at so many years’ purchase on the present rental; the number of years to be agreed upon after consideration and advice by a committee of experts.
Thus, suppose a piece of land to be bringing in a rental of £2 an acre. Let the landlord have, say, twenty years’ purchase, which would be £40 an acre. Thus the land would become the property of the people within a reasonable time without any hardship to its present owners. This is as far as I am willing to go at this time of day in the way of suggestion, for it would be a waste of time to formulate elaborate plans of purchase until the public has thoroughly made up its mind to have the land. For the present, it seems to me that what is most needed is education upon the land question.
I have sufficient confidence in the justice and good sense of the British people to believe that when once they understand a thing to be wrong that thing is doomed. Let us make the public thoroughly conversant with the truth about private ownership of land, and we may confidently leave the task of land nationalisation in their hands. Once the British people want the thing done they will find out a way to do it, and will do it thoroughly. Of that I have no fear.
Even in the matter of education I have few suggestions to make. One idea, however, I will venture to broach. It is in all such matters by very far the best way to begin with children. I would suggest, then, that some really sound, clear, and comprehensive work on the land question should be prepared for school use, and should be forced upon the Board Schools as a text book. Failing this I would advise every father of a family to get a copy of “Land Nationalisation,” by Alfred Russel Wallace, and use it as a text book at home. In this way his children would grow up with a clear and complete knowledge of the issue between the landlords and the people. What is needed here, as in the case of Socialism, is a general knowledge of the truth. A knowledge by the British people of the truth about landlordism would be one of the most precious boons conferred upon a nation.
By ROBERT BLATCHFORD (NUNQUAM), Editor of the CLARION.
A Series of Letters on the Labour Problem.
This Book is intended to explain in a simple and interesting manner the reasons why the many are poor, the way in which thej T can escape from poverty, and the reasons why they should try to secure a better state o? things for themselves and their children.
It explains Socialism and answers all the chief arguments commonly used against Socialism. It deals in a plain way with poverty and drink, the factory system, capital and labour, poverty and land.
It shows why England ought to grow her own wheat, and shows how she could do it.
It is the very book a working man can read and should read. It explains and clears up in a series of short and easy essays nearly all the questions which seem so hard and so dry to the average reader.
It is easy to read and easy to understand, and has already enlightened many readers who have periled it in the columns of the Clarion.
It was designed for purposes of popular education, and promises thoroughly to fulfil the purpose.
No. 4.— That Blessed Word Liberty. By Alex. M. Thompson.
No. 7.—Hail, Referendum! By Alex. M. Thompson.
No. 8.—Some Tory Socialisms. By Robert Blatchford.
No. 14.—The Clarion Ballads. By Robert Blatchford.
No. 23.—Real Socialism: What Socialism Is, and What Socialism Is Not. By R. Blatchford.
Clarion Tales for the People:
No. 1.— The Tramp, and Bob’s Fairy. By R. Blatchford.
No. 25.—Competition. By R. Blatchford.
No. 30.—Land, Labour, and Liberty. By Leonard Hall.
No. 31.— The Referendum and Initiative in Practice. By Alex. M. Thompson.
No. 32.—My Favourite Books. By Robert Blatchford. An article on Sir Thomas Browne’s works.
No. 35.— The Only Way to Democracy. By Alex. M. Thompson.
No. 37.—Municipal Socialism. A Reply by John Burns, M.P., to the “Times.”
No. 38.—Internationalism and Peace. A Speech by Jean Jaures, translated by A. M. Thompson.
No. 39.— The Truth about the Trams. By R. B. Suthers.
No. 40.— Socialism and the German Kaiser: Two Speeches by Von Vollmar and Bebel.
No. 41.—Political Labour Movement. By John Penny.
No. 42.— The Citizen and the Council. By R. B. Suthers.
No. 43.—” Killed by Rates “— or Rent?