Alfred Russell Wallace :
Its necessity and its aims (1882)
CHAPTER VIII –
Nationalisation of the land affords the only mode of effecting a complete solution of the land question.
Summary of the preceding chapters—the contrast of our wealth and our poverty amazes all foreigners—our poverty and pauperism persists, notwithstanding the most favourable conditions—the Irish landlords follow the teachings of political economy—effects of landlordism in the highlands and lowlands of Scotland—the despotic powers of English landlords—the complete and overwhelming mass of evidence in favour of occupying ownership—the remedies proposed—free trade in land shown to be comparatively useless—Mr. Kay’s arguments in favour of free trade in land—small landed estates are constantly absorbed by great ones—free trade in land would not help either the tenant or the labourer—nationalisation of the land the only effective remedy—occupancy and virtual ownership must go together—to secure this the state must be the real owner or ground-landlord—the state must become owner of the land apart from the improvements upon it—mode of determining the value of the quit-rent and of the tenant-right—how existing landowners may be compensated—alleged unfairness of compensation by means of terminable annuities—how tenants may become occupying owners—sub-letting must be absolutely prohibited—evils of sub-letting in towns—mortgaging should be strictly limited—whether any limits should be placed to the quantity of land personally occupied—supposed objections to land nationalisation—Mr. Fowler’s objections—Mr. Arthur Arnold’s objections—Mr. G. Shaw Lefevre’s objections—the hon. G. C. Brodrick’s objections—Mr. J. Boyd Kinnear’s objections—how nationalisation will affect towns—free selection of residential plots by labourers and others—objections to the right of free-selection—why free-selection should be restricted to once in a man’s life—free selection would check the growth of towns and add to the beauty and enjoyability of rural districts—how commons may be preserved and utilised—how minerals should be worked under state ownership—progressive reduction of taxation; abolition of customs and excise—summary of the advantages of nationalisation—summary of the evil results of landlordism—conclusion.
In the preceding chapters we have laid before the reader a body of facts sufficient to form a sound basis for a solution of the Land Problem. They comprise the more essential portions of most of the chief works which have been written on the subject, and it is, perhaps, because these statements and facts in their whole extent, have never before been systematically collected and compared, that the remedies proposed have hitherto been so inadequate, and the arguments by which these remedies have been supported so illogical. Before proceeding to discuss these proposals, or to explain what appears to the present writer the only adequate remedy, it will be as well briefly to summarise the facts and conclusions already established.
Summary of the Preceding Chapters.—In the first chapter we have called special attention to the astounding facts of the vast riches and the degrading poverty of our country, which, in their terrible combination and contrast, are unparalleled in the civilised world. Many writers have commented on this fact incidentally, but none (except the American author whose work we have sketched in the preceding chapter) have made it the foundation and key-note of a discussion, or have endeavoured to trace out its causes and its possible cure. To show that I have not overstated the facts of the case, I will here quote the words of the late Mr. Joseph Kay, Q.C., who says:—”The French, the Dutch, the Germans, and the Swiss look with wonder at the enormous fortunes and at the enormous mass of pauperism which accumulate in England side by side. They have little of either extreme.” And again:—”The objects which strike foreigners with the greatest astonishment, on visiting our country, and of which they see nothing at all similar in their own countries, are:—(1) The enormous wealth of the highest classes of English society. (2) The intense and continued labour and toil of the middle and lowest classes. And (3) the frightful amount of absolute pauperism among the lowest classes.” And as to the condition of the agricultural labourers of England, Professor Fawcett (in his “Political Economy”) states, that there are “few classes of workmen who, in many respects, are so thoroughly wretched as the English agricultural labourers. They are so miserably poor that, if they were converted into slaves to-morrow, it would be for the interest of their owners to feed them far better than they are fed at the present time;” while in his “Essays” he says, speaking on the authority of a Parliamentary Report, that the men, women, and children who compose the agricultural gangs which cultivate a wide tract of highly-farmed land “are living in such a condition that some of the worst horrors of slavery seem to be in existence among us in the nineteenth century.”
Now this state of things not only co-exists with an unexampled accumulation of wealth, but with a whole series of favourable conditions which few other countries have enjoyed. We had the start of all Europe in the development of the railway system; we had endless stores of coal and iron, which all the world required and bought of us; for a long time we supplied half the population of the globe with cotton and iron goods; we have a greater colonial system than any other country, and a freer outlet for our people and our trade to lands where our own language is spoken; our home-trade is little burdened by fiscal trammels, while we enjoy free imports from all the world; and our capital, London, is, and long has been, the financial and commercial centre of the globe. Surely the amazing anomaly of the degrading poverty of our labourers co-existing with such favourable conditions deserves, not a mere passing notice, but a serious and continued study. It has, however, unhappily, become so familiar to us that most people pass it by as an insoluble problem, and content themselves with suggesting certain possible ameliorations or palliations. In my first chapter I have gone a little further than this, and have endeavoured to define, with some precision, the cause of this frightful anomaly—a cause which the series of facts stated in the subsequent chapters forced me to adopt as the only adequate one, and which I have thus early enunciated as a postulate to be either affirmed or negatived by the evidence adduced subsequently. It is a cause which appears to me to afford the only clue to a general solution of the problem of how to secure the social well-being of the great mass of the community, and it leads irresistibly to the conclusion that the most vital of all the questions of modern civilisation is the proper utilisation of the land.
In the second chapter I have briefly sketched the rise and development of the semi-feudal system of land-tenure now existing in this country, showing that neither its origin nor its history gives it any claim to our respect, or renders it at all likely to be suitable to the wants of a free and civilised people.
In the third chapter I give some account of the effects of modern landlordism in Ireland. The law has hitherto given to the landlord complete power over the land he holds, to deal with it as he pleases. Millions of people who possess no land nor any other property are absolutely dependent, not for happiness only, but for the power to live, on having a portion of this land to cultivate. Under these circumstances the landlord is master of the situation. He can demand what he pleases for his land; he can let it on what terms he pleases; and he can subject his tenants to any rules or regulations he or his agents think proper. The people must have land or starve; so they offer any rent, agree to any terms, and are consequently always the virtual, if not the actual, slaves of the landlord. Hence the perennial misery and crime of Ireland. Hence famines, and evictions, and the shooting of landlords or agents. Some people blame the landlords; but why? The law tells them that their land is their property. Political economy tells them to sell it, or the use of it, in the dearest market; that supply and demand regulate the price of all commodities; and that it is best for all that it should be so regulated. They simply act on these principles, which have been drilled into them as the highest teaching of political science; yet the result is a nation in the most hopeless misery to be found anywhere in the civilised world. The only logical conclusion from these facts is, that the law which makes land private property is wrong; and this being so, we can understand why it is that the very same principles of free contract, buying cheap and selling dear, supply and demand as the regulator of price—principles which work good for mankind in every other case, work evil here. That this is the proper conclusion is clearly demonstrated by the necessity for exceptional legislation for the land of Ireland, whereby the greatest modern statesmen and legislators go back to the exploded nostrums of the middle ages, and attempt to regulate the price of this commodity. If land is and should be private property, why determine its fair price or fair rent by Act of Parliament any more than the price of bread or of cloth? The fact that the only way found by Parliament to save a nation from chronic insurrection and a people from chronic misery and starvation is thus to interfere in the case of land, proves of itself that land should not be private property, but should be held by the State for the free use and general benefit of the community. The question of how the land became the property of its present owners is not important. There is, perhaps, hardly an acre of land in Europe but has been at one time or other forcibly taken from some previous holder, and it is not found that the possession of land (as property—not for personal occupation) leads to less evil results when it has been simply purchased or inherited from a purchaser, than when it has been obtained by forcible means in modern or ancient times. It is the act of ownership of land as a property, producing an income by its rents, that leads to all the trouble, not the mode in which the land was acquired by the present or preceding owners. The only logical people are those who, like Lord Sherbrooke and Professor Bonamy Price, maintain that land, being property, should be dealt with like all other property, by free contract between man and man, and that therefore all interference between a landlord and his tenants is contrary to the first principles of political economy—or those who, like Herbert Spencer, Professor F. W. Newman, and others, maintain that the land of a country ought not to be private property at all; and the fact that the unchecked operation of supply and demand, with free contract between purchaser and seller, does produce, in the case of land, endless evils, proves conclusively that the latter position is the true one.
The fourth chapter treats of the effects of landlordism in Scotland, and exhibits a series of facts which, though arising under a totally different set of conditions from those which have prevailed in Ireland, have produced equally lamentable results; and these still further enforce the same doctrine, that land cannot safely be allowed to become private property, to be bought, and sold, and accumulated, and dealt with like other property. Some account is here given of the “clearances” which have been going on in the Highlands for nearly a century, and which are still in operation. The motive for these clearances is usually to obtain a larger or securer rental for the land, either as sheep-farms or as deer-forests; and for this purpose tens of thousands of British subjects have been driven from their homes—often to swell the mass of indigence and crime in the great cities, while the country is being denuded of a hardy, industrious, moral, and intelligent population, to which our army has been indebted for men and officers who, in India and elsewhere, have done the noblest deeds, and added to the nation’s roll of fame. Such clearances are a deep injury to the State, and a positive crime against humanity, of the same nature (though less in degree) as despotism or slavery. Yet they are legal; and no power exists which can prevent them, so long as the land—without which no man can live—is allowed to be monopolised by the rich. When the attention of the Home Secretary was called, by Dr. Macdonald, to the recent Leckmeln evictions in Ross-shire, he replied that he could not interfere, because the proprietor had only exercised the summum jus of property. That answer is a condemnation of private property in land, because it shows that the greatest of all the evils which arise from it—the power of one man to banish another from his home—cannot be cured so long as it exists.
In the latter part of the same chapter attention is called to the fact that, in the Lowlands of Scotland, where the agriculture is admitted to be the best in the Kingdom, and where there is no lack of capital expended on the land, the condition of the labourer is often as bad as in the worst cultivated parts of England, while his higher wages are wholly due to the competition of the manufacturers for labour. This is a complete disproof of the allegations of those who maintain that, were land freed from entail and settlements and could pass into the hands of men of capital, all the evils of the landlord system would disappear. The fact, however, is, that where the amount of capital expended is greatest, there the evils, as regards the labourer, are at least as great as elsewhere.
The fifth chapter deals with English Landlordism, and it is shown that here, too, the evil results are numerous and wide-spread. The land is badly cultivated; the country is denuded of population while the towns are overcrowded; many of the greatest necessaries of life (which are also its greatest luxuries), such as milk, butter, eggs, poultry, fruit, and vegetables, are all made scarce, dear, and bad by the denial of land to labourers and the middle classes; and these products have to be imported from almost every country in Europe, and even from America, when they could all be abundantly produced at home, and we could have them at our very doors better in quality and far cheaper than now. This is a positive injury to every one—an injury in no way compensated by Free Trade allowing these things to be imported in a more or less stale and deteriorated condition duty free, since the hundreds of millions we pay for them annually to foreigners might be earned by our own rural labourers, keeping them from drink and pauperism, and us from the burthen of supporting paupers.
In England, too, evictions occur as elsewhere, and no man who does not cultivate his own land can feel secure. He may be banished from his home at his landlord’s pleasure; and instances are given showing that men are thus banished on account of their politics, their religion, their independence, or their love of sport. Every man not a landowner is, in fact, a serf. His lord may be a benevolent despot and he may not feel the chain, but it exists nevertheless; and he cannot be really free when, for no crime or fault whatever, he may be compelled against his will to suffer the punishment of having, at any period of his life, to break up his home and seek a new one. Attention is also called to the enormous and wide-spread evils of over-crowded and ill-built dwellings, with insufficient space of ground for health and recreation, which directly arise from land being a monopoly in private hands. This again is an evil which does not affect a class only, but the entire community, and it is an evil which cannot be got rid of so long as land remains private property, but which may be made to disappear the moment a wise system of nationalisation is effected.
The sixth chapter deals with the question of Occupying Ownership as opposed to Landlordism. A summary is given of the evidence as to the condition of the landholders and labourers in various countries, and it is shown, by an overwhelming mass of evidence, that just in proportion as the cultivator of land has a permanent interest in it is he well-off, happy, and contented. Climate, soil, latitude, government, race, may all differ, but the general law remains true, that the ownership of land by the very persons who cultivate it is beneficial to themselves and to the whole community; that the cultivation of land which belongs to another, and in the improvement of which the cultivator has not a large or an exclusive interest, is injurious to the cultivator and to the whole community. This law is absolute, and has no exceptions. It is not a question of large or small farms; it is a question solely of ownership or tenancy of land. It applies equally to the agricultural labourer with his acre of garden as to the yeoman farming 500 acres of his own land. We English maintain Free Trade, though all the world be against us, because the immutable laws of labour, production, and self-interest prove that the free exchange of the products of labour is for the mutual benefit of all. But in the case of the land, the benefits of occupying ownership are far greater; for they are social and moral as well as material. Free Trade has not diminished drunkenness, Free Trade has not diminished pauperism, Free Trade has not given our labourers decent houses or raised them out of that state of misery which is a disgrace to our civilisation. But occupying ownership does do all this wherever it prevails. Just in proportion as it is wide-spread and untrammelled, so do pauperism, drunkenness, and crime disappear, and give place to plenty, peace, and content. If, then, we uphold Free Trade because it is theoretically right and true, and because it makes our riches increase and multiply, ought we not to adopt with equal eagerness that principle of occupying ownership of the soil which is recognised by all enquirers as producing such universally beneficial results, results which are clearly traceable to no less universal and indubitable facts of our mental and moral nature. In the whole field of political and social science 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.
In the seventh chapter I have given a brief sketch of that part of Mr. George’s work on “Progress and Poverty” which shows, by a totally distinct line of argument and proof, that private property in land is the direct cause of low wages and pauperism, thus confirming and enforcing the results we have arrived at in the preceding chapter. Having thus set forth a large body of facts, and having found that they point invariably to one conclusion, a conclusion arrived at independently by a writer who has investigated the question from another standpoint, let us proceed to examine the remedies proposed by those earnest and philanthropic writers to whom we are indebted for most of the facts we have made use of, and who all admit the failure of our present land-system and the serious nature of the evils which co-exist with it.
Free Trade in Land Shown to be Comparatively Useless.—The great school of English land-reformers, among whom we have the distinguished names of Mr. Bright, Professor Fawcett, Mr. Arthur Arnold, Mr. Thornton, Mr. J. Boyd Kinnear, the Hon. George Brodrick, and the late Mr. Joseph Kay, while fully admitting most of the facts here adduced, and often dwelling upon them at greater length and more forcibly than I have been able to do, all agree in advocating the same universal panacea—the abolition or radical modification of the laws which restrict the transmission and possession of land by means of settlements and entails, so as to bring about a state of things which may be briefly summarised by the term “Free Trade in Land.” They all show, with great force and irresistible logic, the evils incident to the system of limited ownership, produced alike by settlements and entails, and by the costly and difficult transfer of land which these necessitate. They urge that the one thing needful is that every acre of land in the country should be in the possession of some one owner, with absolute power to sell or transfer it in any way he pleases to some other absolute owner. They maintain that by this means land would get into the hands of those who have capital to expend on its improvement, and whose interest it would be so to improve it. They maintain, in fact, that what is wanted is not to abolish landlordism, but to arrange matters so that the landlord shall have still greater power than he has now to deal with the land as he pleases. Some of them maintain that this would favour the creation of a class of yeomen or peasant proprietors, by throwing much more land into the market and rendering its sale in small lots inexpensive as well as profitable; while others dwell chiefly on the fact that more capital will thus be diverted to the land. Not one of them seems to recognise anything evil in landlordism itself; not one of them appears to perceive the bearing of the whole mass of the evidence in every civilised country in the world—evidence which proclaims in the most unmistakable manner that the fruits of landlordism are always evil, those of occupying ownership always good.
How is it, it may be asked, that among so many great men who have paid special attention to this subject none have seen, or if they have seen have declared, the inherent evils of landlordism? One such man, and a greater than any of those whose names I have quoted—John Stuart Mill—did see it, and stated his opinion with sufficient plainness; but he did not see any practical and just mode of abolishing landlordism, and therefore contented himself with claiming for the State “the unearned increment of the soil.” Other land-reformers are most likely deterred by the vast difficulties in the way of such reform; and, though satisfied that landlordism does always produce evil results, do not see any possibility of changing so ancient and so powerful an institution. Before proceeding to show that the problem of radical land reform is not nearly so difficult as has been supposed, when once the source of the evil is detected and it is determined not merely to palliate but to abolish it, it will be well to point out the total insufficiency of the free-trade-in-land panacea to remedy the great and crying evils of landlordism; and, in doing so, we shall refer chiefly to the most authoritative work on the question—Mr. Kay’s “Free Trade in Land.”
Mr. Kay’s Arguments in Support of Free Trade in Land.—Mr. Kay’s book is throughout an elaborate argument, founded on a copious and most valuable collection of facts; but rarely do we find an argument set forth with such evident care, and yet so entirely illogical and unsound. It is essentially as follows:—Over a large portion of Europe we find peasants cultivating lands of which they are the owners, and they are invariably well-off and contented. In our own country we have mostly large estates cultivated by tenant farmers, and here the labourers are pauperised and discontented. Wherever the former condition prevails there is also a free trade in land. With us, and in some other countries where the people are equally wretched, entails and settlements and costly conveyancing prevail; therefore “free trade in land” causes the difference; give us “free trade in land” and our country will soon resemble Switzerland or Sweden or Prussia. This is positively the whole argument, and so blindly is it applied that the most vital differences between other countries and our own are slurred over or totally ignored. Thus, he speaks of the misery of the peasants of France before the Revolution, of the abolition of feudal customs and laws, of the peasants having “become the owners of the farms on which they used to labour,” and asserts that “the system of peasant proprietorship is literally a system of free trade in land;” but he quite ignores the fact that even before the Revolution there were more than a million of peasant proprietors in France, and that afterwards the enormous Church property and many confiscated estates were sold at low prices to the peasants, who then had no competitors in the market, thus adding, according to Arthur Young, 1,220,000 more to the already large body of French peasant-proprietors. In speaking of Prussia, he refers to the alteration of the “Land Laws” as the one essential thing which has produced the existing peasant-proprietors, ignoring again the fact that there were already in existence an enormous body of peasants cultivating land held under various feudal tenures, often very oppressive, but still, to a great extent, permanent; and that the reforms enabled the peasants to become freeholders on easy terms. And here, too, large ecclesiastical and Crown estates were also sold to the peasants. In England, on the other hand, that beneficial feature of feudalism—the permanent connection of the peasant with the land he cultivates, has been long totally destroyed; the Church lands were all given to feudal lords or court favourites three centuries ago, and have gone to swell great estates, instead of remaining, as in most European countries, to be divided among the people; while the number of wealthy persons seeking to purchase land for speculation or for power is so great, that it is the wildest delusion to suppose that the agricultural labourers of England (rarely able to escape the workhouse in old age) will ever secure an acre of it.
Small Landed Estates are Constantly Absorbed by Great Ones.—Mr. Kay himself adduces abundant evidence to this effect. He shows that “the great estates, vast as they already are, are continually devouring the few remaining small agricultural properties,” and that “the class of peasant-proprietors formerly to be found in the rural districts is tending to disappear.” Mr. Shaw Lefevre, his relative and disciple, further states that—”In some counties, all the land which comes into the market is bought up by the trustees of wills directing the accumulation of land; while in most parts of the country, if a small freehold of a few acres comes into the market, it is almost certain to be bought up by an adjoining owner, either for the purpose of rounding off a corner of his estate, or for extending political influence, or still more often by the advice of the family solicitor, who is always in favour of increasing the family estates.” Professor Fawcett also writes strongly on this “greed for land.” He says:—”Two or three large proprietors continue increasing their estates until they come at length to think that the whole locality ought to be apportioned among them. If the symmetry of their estates should happen to be disturbed by anyone possessing a few acres of land, he is considered an intruder, and his little freehold is an eye-sore to the great proprietors. A common affects them much in the same way; and in order to achieve the grand object of being able to say that no one else in the neighbourhood possesses a single rood of land, they appeal to Parliament to aid them in destroying these commons over which the public exercise some proprietary rights. A Parliament so largely composed of those who are great landowners, or who wish to become great landowners, respond to such an appeal with cordial sympathy.” (Pauperism,p. 254)[i]
[i] In an article on the Land Question in the Edinburgh Review of October, 1871, the same view is forcibly upheld. It is shown by the testimony of M. de Laveleye that even in Belgium peasant properties are diminishing, on account of facilities of sale and the general desire for land by capitalists. In the Eastern States of America also small farms are being bought up for investments or for residential purposes, and the writer continues:—"If you could divide England into lots; if you could restore the imaginary times of village communities and joint ownership of the soil; still, if, at the same time, you left the disposal of land free, the same result would recur. Landlordism would revive and grow again. After a period of transition capital would very certainly re-assume its ordinary predominance, and the land would be engrossed once more. Nothing could prevent this, except the enactment and enforcement of agrarian laws. This, and no other, is the price which we must pay for reducing our landed property to the condition of comparative level for which Mr. Mill wishes, and of absolute level which alone will content his more advanced disciples. Does it not stand to reason that if the sale and purchase of land were perfectly easy and free, those persons would buy most land and give the best price for it who had most money to buy it with?"
Free Trade in Land would not Help either the Tenant or the Labourer.—Now, with all these influences at work, and taking note of the enormous fortunes annually made by contractors, merchants, or speculators, as well as those brought home by successful colonists, all seeking investment in land or some form of landed property, what reason is there to suppose that the great bulk of the estates that come into the market will not be at once absorbed by the various investors of this type, and by speculative builders or by building companies, where the land is suitable for creating a residential district? No facts have been adduced to show that the demand for land by the wealthy will cease or at all diminish, except the totally inapposite fact that much land sold by the Encumbered Estates Court in Ireland was purchased by the occupying tenants, largely helped by their relations in America. The condition of Ireland, however, neither was nor is at all comparable with that of England. The absentee landlords of Ireland are not generally eager to increase their estates, and there is no constant influx of newly-created wealth ever on the look-out for land, as there is in England and Scotland. It is, therefore, as certain as any anticipated result can be, that “free trade in land” would in no appreciable degree add to the number of yeomen or of peasant-proprietors, or do anything to check their complete extinction. What it would do would be to transfer many estates to the hands of men of capital, and to consign some beautiful demesnes to the speculative builder. But this would in no way benefit either the labourer or the tenant-farmer, or the public at large. We have seen that on some of the best-farmed land in the country the condition of the labourers is a disgrace and a degradation; while alike in Ireland, in the Highlands, and in every part of Europe, it is the new purchasers of land, whether in large or small estates, who are the hardest landlords, who seek to obtain the greatest possible return for their outlay, who buy cheap and sell dear, as they are taught to do by the best-known maxims of political economy—maxims which, when applied to the products of human labour, are beneficial to all parties alike, but which, when applied to the land (which is limited in quantity, which no man can make, and which is as necessary to human existence as the air we breathe), carry with them the inevitable curse of pauperism to the labourer, and the innumerable evils of a half-cultivated and poverty-stricken country to the whole community. For, why do we import eggs to the amount of two and a half millions sterling annually from France, poultry from France and Italy, butter, or some bad imitations of it, to the amount of more than ten millions sterling from various parts of the Continent, rabbits from Belgium, fruits and vegetables from France, Jersey, and America, while milk, which cannot be imported, is constantly adulterated, is only to be had even in the country at an exorbitant price, and often only as a favour? This all happens because our labourers of every kind are landless, and for no other reason whatever. Every English child who cannot get abundance of pure milk, every one who suffers from the want of cheap, fresh, and abundant fruit, vegetables, eggs, butter, and poultry, has the right to protest against this system. The wealthy landowners know nothing of these evils, for they grow all these products themselves; but thirty million people cannot for ever live as if in a desert, or in a state of siege, in order that one million or less may be territorial lords and possess undue political and social power.[ii]
[ii] As an authoritative exposition of the "free trade in land" arguments and views, we may refer to Mr. William Fowler, M.P., who, in the "Cobden Club Essays" (Vol. II, p. 121), argues justly against the scheme of the late J. S. Mill that it would render the charges against land uncertain and fluctuating, and would thereby diminish its value as a secure investment. He maintains throughout his essay that the great thing, and the only needful thing, is to cause capital to be expended on the land, and for this purpose he advocates the removal of all restrictions on its ownership and its transfer. This, he believes, will do all that is necessary for the labourer, by rendering it the interest of the landlord to house and feed him well, just as the farmer houses and feeds his horses well. But this very same argument was used in the case of slavery. It was said that slaves could not be seriously ill-treated, or maimed, or murdered, because it was against the interest of their owners to deteriorate their own property. Yet no fact is more certain than that they were so ill-treated, or that in many cases they were systematically worked out, it being found cheaper to exhaust them and buy others than to keep them in old age. So, the fact is certain (and has been proved in the preceding chapters) that, however much capital is expended on the land, the labourer does not benefit. On the highly cultivated farms of the lowlands of Scotland, the cottages and bothies in which the hinds are lodged are often bad and insufficient, as bad at least as in the worst cultivated parts of England. It does not do, therefore, to look at this question solely from a landlord-and-tenant point of view, and treating the labourer solely as a part of the necessary "stock" of the farm. Yet this is what Mr. Fowler and the free-trade-in-land men do. We find it stated that, "a good cottage can only be considered self-supporting in the same sense that good stables and good cattle-sheds are self-supporting, and the only hope that the labourer can have of being properly housed is, that the landowners should accept the position that good cottages conveniently placed pay, in the same sense that good farm offices so placed pay." And it is assumed that the only reason why landlords do not act on this principle is, that they have only life-interests in the land. To support this view it should have been shown that wherever an estate is not encumbered by entails, the cottages are ample and convenient, but no attempt whatever has been made to do this, while the universality of bad, dear, and inconvenient cottages over the whole country, and the absence of all adequate provision of garden ground attached to them, is a strong proof that this is not the only or the chief cause of the deficiency. On the other hand, it is a fact established by overwhelming evidence, that wherever the labourer possesses land from which he cannot be ejected at the will of his landlord or his employer, he invariably secures for himself decent house-accomodation, while he has also that feeling of independence and security which is the foundation of every social and political virtue. The labourer, therefore, has a right to refuse to be treated as a mere portion of the farming stock, to be housed well or ill as the landlord chooses; and the placing him in this position is the condemnation of "free trade in land," as the panacea for all the evils connected with the land-system, put forward by the Cobden Club School of Reformers.
Nationalisation of the Land the only Effective Remedy.—Having now shown that the panacea of the “free trade in land” school would not sensibly diminish the various evils of landlordism which have been pointed out in the preceding chapters, but that it would, on the contrary, very probably intensify some of them, it remains to be shown that a remedy can be found for the terrible disease under which the social organism in our country is labouring, that this remedy may be applied without injury to anyone, and that its results will be in the highest degree beneficial to every class of the community.
Let us first state what are the necessary requirements of a complete solution of the land problem as enunciated in these pages:—
(1) In the first place, it is clear that landlordism must be replaced by occupying ownership. No less radical reform will get rid of the widespread evils of our present system.
(2) Arrangements must be made by which the tenure of the holder of land must be secure and permanent, and nothing must be permitted to interfere with his free use of the land, or his certainty of reaping all the fruits of any labour or outlay he may bestow upon it.
(3) Arrangements must be made by which every British subject may secure a portion of land for personal occupation at its fair agricultural value.
(4) All suitable tracts of unenclosed and waste lands must (under certain limitations) be open to cultivation by occupying owners.
(5) The freest sale and transfer of every holder’s interest in his land must be secured.
(6) In order that these conditions be rendered permanent, sub-letting must be absolutely prohibited, and mortgages strictly limited.
Occupancy and Virtual Ownership must go together.—The first of these propositions hardly needs further elucidation or discussion. The whole bearing of the facts adduced in this volume is to show that landlordism per se is necessarily evil, while the occupation of land by its real or virtual owners is good just in proportion as the owner is in a position to receive the whole benefit, present and future, of his outlay on the land.
To Secure this, the State must be the Real Owner or Ground-Landlord.—It is, however, equally clear that the nature of ownership of land must not be the same as that of other property, as, if so, occupying ownership (which alone is beneficial) would not be universally secured. A person must own land only so long as he occupies it personally; that is, he must be a perpetual holder of the land, not its absolute owner; and this implies some superior of whom he holds it. We thus come back to that feudal principle (which in theory still exists) that every one must hold his land from the State, subject to whatever general laws and regulations are made for all land so held. The State must in no way deal with individual landowners, except through the medium of special Courts which will have to apply the laws in individual cases. Thus no State management will be required, with its inevitable evils of patronage, waste, and favouritism.
It is also essential that the State should be the actual owner of the land, in order that it may be untrammelled in making from time to time such general rules and regulations for its tenure as may be found needful for the public good. If absolute ownership—or what is now termed a freehold—be continued, every such absolute owner becomes an obstacle to needful reform, and the right to purchase land (under limitations to be hereafter mentioned) which every Englishman ought to possess would seem a harsh interference with the rights of property. The State alone, as universal landowner, will be able to provide means by which every man, from the labourer upwards, may procure suitable land for his personal occupation; and, unless this is done, fully half the benefits of a good land-system will be lost.
The State must become Owner of the Land apart from the Improvements added to it.—It being thus determined that the State must be the only landowner, but that the tenants of the State must be permanent, must be subject to no restrictions or interference in dealing with the land, and must be able to sell or transfer it with a minimum of trouble and expense, we proceed to show how this may be done in the simplest and most beneficial way, and so as to interfere as little as possible with the rights and interests of existing landowners. All previous writers on the possibility of nationalising the land have overlooked a very obvious fact, which is really the key to a practical solution of the problem. This fact is, that all enclosed or cultivated land has its value made up of two distinct portions, easily separable and affording a basis for an important division of ownership. These portions are—firstly, the inherent value, and, secondly, the improvements or additions added to the inherent value by the labour or outlay of the owners or occupiers. The important difference of these two portions of value is, that the one can be maintained, increased, or destroyed by the energy or the neglect of the holder of the land; the other—the inherent value—cannot (except in rare cases) be so destroyed or even deteriorated; for it depends on such natural conditions as geological formation, natural drainage, climate, aspect, surface, and subsoil—or on such general facts and conditions as density of population, vicinity of towns, ports, railroads, or public highways, none of which were created or are capable of being much altered by the individual action of the landholder. This portion of the value of the land, therefore, may conveniently become the property of the State, which may be remunerated for its use by payment of a perpetual quit-rent. The other portion, which is that created by the exertions of the landholder or his predecessors—consisting of buildings, fences, drains, gates, private roads, plantations, &c., &c.—should always be the property of the tenant and holder of the land, and it may conveniently be termed the tenant-right, because its possession will constitute him a tenant of the State, and because it is that portion of the value of landed property which must always belong to the tenant, while the land or soil itself remains in the possession of the supreme lord of the soil, the State. The term is familiar from its use in Ireland, as applied to that portion of the value of land which the tenant has created by his labour, and which, by custom, he has the right to sell or transfer.
As the possibility of practically determining the comparative value of these two elements in landed property has been doubted by some critics—among others, by Professor F. W. Newman, who is favourable to my scheme if it can be worked—it will be well here to say a few words on this supposed difficulty.
Mode of Determining the Value of the Quit-Rent and the Tenant-Right.—During the interval between the passing of the Act providing for Nationalisation and the date of its coming into operation—perhaps five, or even ten years—a complete valuation of the landed property of the whole kingdom will have to be made. This valuation must be of the annual or rental value of the land, and it must be of each field, enclosure, or other separable plot of land, however small—not on estates or holdings. This estimate of the annual value of each plot of land as it stands must then be divided into two parts, the one the value of the landlord’s own portion—the future tenant-right; the other the inherent value, including that given to it by the community as well as by the cultivation of preceding generations of tenants. The separation of these two values would be by no means a difficult task, as a few considerations will show. By the general custom of the locality it would be found what had usually been done by the landlord, what by the tenant. In most parts of England it would be the presumption that the buildings and gates had been provided by the landlord, and this presumption would be acted on by the valuers in the absence of evidence to the contrary. As to fences, the presumption would probably be the other way. Very old enclosures have almost certainly been made by successive occupiers, and where any considerable amount of new fencing had been done by the landlord within living memory, or even beyond it, personal or documentary evidence of the fact would be forthcoming. The expenditure, or rather the work done, by the landlord or his predecessors could thus be ascertained with considerable accuracy, and would form the basis for the valuation.
There are two extreme cases in which the separation of the two values would be easy—the one in which buildings are the main feature of the plot, the other in which nothing has been done to the land but mere enclosure and cultivation. In the former we have the case of house-rent and ground-rent, which any valuer could determine, especially as certain general principles would be laid down for his guidance—as, for instance, that the area of ground occupied by a farm-house, garden, farm-yard or buildings should be estimated at the average agricultural value of the whole farm; while the buildings would be estimated at a fair interest on their approximate cost, less depreciation and repairs, if they were convenient and well suited to their purpose. If, on the other hand, they were badly arranged, badly built, or inconvenient, then a further deduction would have to be made to arrive at their value, which is often very different from the cost of a thing. In the other extreme are old enclosures which have never been drained, and which, presumably, have had nothing whatever done to them by the landlord or his predecessors, except perhaps supplying gates; and here the tenant-right would be a minimum—sometimes perhaps only a few shillings—while the fair rental value of the land, less this amount, would be the quit-rent. In this valuation the State would receive the benefit of the increased value given to the land by the continued cultivation of successive generations of tenants, as well as that due to the increase of population and civilisation in the community; and in every case the sum of these two values—the tenant-right and the quit-rent—would make up the fair rental value of the farm. The annual value of the tenant-right, capitalised on a scale determined by the durability of these landlord’s improvements, would be the sum to be paid him by the tenant who wished to hold the land under the State.
We have thus shown how the two values which make up all landed property may be separated with comparative ease and certainty, and with quite sufficient accuracy. While writing these pages the thing is being done in Ireland by the various Land Courts, so that impracticability can no longer be urged against it. It is, as we have shown, the very foundation of a practicable scheme of land-nationalisation, and even were it more difficult than it is, it would be worth any amount of time and trouble to do it.
There remains only now to consider how existing landlords may be compensated with the least permanent injury to the community for the quit-rents which will henceforth be payable to the State.
How Existing Landowners may be Compensated.—In order that the State may become possessed of this portion of the value of all landed property in the kingdom, it must compensate existing landowners and their expectant heirs. This may be done either by its purchase for a fixed sum, or by securing them the full revenue they have hitherto derived from it. For many reasons this last is by far the best way. It would involve no great financial operation, no elaborate determination of absolute value, in which the seller would almost certainly obtain more than his due, to the detriment of the public; while it would at the same time serve to mark a great principle, that the soil itself is, and has always been, the property of the State; and that the State merely resumes its own for the public good, but of course without diminishing the income which any living person does or may derive from it.
The period for which such annuities are to last is a matter of detail, but it is clearly better that they should depend upon a certain number of lives than be for a fixed term of years, because in the former case the recipient does not suffer the inconvenience and sense of loss caused by the cessation of an important part of his income during his lifetime. That they should not be perpetual is also clear; for that would be to acknowledge a perpetual right of individuals to the land and its produce; it would burthen the land with a permanent tax for the future benefit of persons who would have done nothing whatever to earn or deserve it; and it would help to create and keep in existence a class of pensioned idlers, living upon the labours of others, without the smallest exertion of body or mind on their own part. That there should be some such persons in every highly complex society may in our present state of civilisation be a necessity, but that any great extension of this class is a serious evil is so universally admitted that it would be little less than criminal for any legislature actually to provide for their perpetual existence, a constant burthen on the community, a hindrance to true social advancement. This perpetuation of a large body of persons living on the labours of others is one of the necessary evil results of landlordism. It has been hitherto palliated by the supposed duties which they exercise in the “management” of their estates, and their supposed beneficial influence over the districts in which they reside; but the former have been shown to be injurious, and the latter illusory. Their continued existence for a time, as pensioners on the land, can only be defended on the ground that the property of living individuals should be strictly respected by the State as well as by their fellow citizens. Their accustomed enjoyments and reasonable expectations must not be interfered with. But no such rule applies to the unborn. They have neither expectations nor proprietary rights, and they may be justly disregarded when their supposed rights are opposed to the general well-being of the community.
In accordance with these considerations, the principle that seems most consonant with justice is, to continue the annuity successively to any heir or heirs of the landowner who may be living at the passing of the Act, or who may be born at any time before the decease of the said owner. This would ensure to the owner himself and to all persons in whom he could possibly have any personal interest the same net income from the land which they enjoyed before the passing of the Act. It would take away from them only the right of sale, but as this is the very thing which the majority of English landowners themselves take away from their heirs, and the power to do which they account one of their greatest privileges, they can hardly object to the same thing being done by the State for a great public purpose. It must also be remembered that the annuitants will enjoy the State’s guarantee of the income, and so be saved from the fluctuations of annual produce to which landed property is now pre-eminently liable; and, further, that that portion of the value of the land which has been created by themselves or their predecessors—the tenant-right—will still be their own absolutely, either to retain themselves, or to sell to the highest bidder, the power of letting only being taken away as manifestly inconsistent with the public welfare.
Alleged Unfairness of Compensation by Means of Terminable Annuities.—The objection to this mode of dealing with landowners most frequently put forward is, to suppose two men with, say, £10,000 each, one of whom invests his money in Consols, the other in land. The former, it is said, derives a perpetual income from his property; the latter intends to do the same, but you change it into a terminable annuity and so rob him. The answer to this is, that the “perpetual income” is purely imaginary. No man can enjoy an income longer than for his life, with the power of leaving it to his next heir. Here his actual enjoyment of it ceases absolutely, and all this enjoyment he retains under the new system. His heir may spend, or give away, or lose the £10,000 in Consols, and his wish or expectation that the money will be increased and go to enrich unborn generations of his family is not a thing to be valued or compensated.[iii] It is true that the selling value of the land, on the probability of the Act passing, or when it has passed, may be diminished; but, whenever such a diminution of value takes place in any other kind of property from a similar cause, confiscation is not admitted and compensation is not allowed. Many manufacturers have been ruined and many workmen reduced to beggary by the direct action of the State in removing protective duties, on the faith of which they had invested their capital or their manual skill, and in no case have they been compensated for the loss, compensation being refused on the ground that the measure was for the benefit of the whole community, and that they participate in that benefit. In such cases both property and income were often destroyed at one blow, while here the income remains untouched, and even acquires increased stability; and the general welfare will assuredly be advanced to a greater extent by occupying ownership of the land than it has been by the extension of Free Trade to articles of luxury, such as silk and jewellery. The general well-being is, of course, the sole justification for any such interference with any form of property, or with the established condition of society. It has been shown by an overwhelming mass of evidence that the great change here proposed is essential to the welfare of the whole community; and it is certain that no great reform was ever effected with so little interference with the property or the means of enjoyment of individuals as will be necessary here.
[iii] Not only is the supposed "perpetual income" derived from Consols or any other form of investment non-existent as regards any living owner, but it may be shown to be altogether unjust in principle and impossible in fact. Let us see what the contrary assumption—that interest on capital paid in perpetuity is altogether right and expedient—leads us to. The surplus capital of each generation will be invested to produce a "perpetual income" for all succeeding generations. But as each generation creates more surplus capital, its amount, and that of the "perpetual income" derived from it, will go on increasing; and without approaching perpetuity we should very soon arrive at a state of things in which this interest would be of so vast an amount that the workers—the producers of all wealth—could not possibly pay it. This period would arrive sooner because, with the increase of the "perpetual incomes," those supported in idleness on these incomes would also increase continually; and we come, at last, to the reductio ad absurdum, that the "income" would be so great that it would support everybody if there was only anybody else to pay it! It is evident that before long the result must be, either a revolution, in which all such incomes would be swallowed up, or a progressive decrease in the purchasing power of money, which, if the "income" were really perpetual, would inevitably end in its becoming worthless. As a matter of fact we see this tendency already in action, in the constantly increasing cost of living with the constantly decreasing rate of secure interest. The conception of "perpetual income" is therefore a fallacy from two distinct points of view.
It may, however, be doubted whether even the selling value of land would be at all diminished by the proposed legislation, and for the following reasons. Till quite recently there has always been much competition for farms, and there is always a great demand for small plots of land at anything like an agricultural value. But when this proposed Act has passed, everyone wishing to purchase land will have to purchase the tenant-right only, paying the annual quit-rent, as above defined, to the State. This will render the purchase of land very easy, and will certainly bring in more purchasers. The demand for land, either as residential estates, or in small lots for farms or gardens, will probably exceed the supply; and thus the price will rise, perhaps, sufficiently to cover the margin between the value of an annuity for, say three lives, and that of one nominally in perpetuity; and, if it does so, then the landlord will suffer no loss whatever.[iv]
[iv]In order to render any diminution even of the selling value of the land less probable, the annuity might be extended to three generations certain, in the direct line, that is, to the actual owner, his sons, and grandsons, as well as to any collateral or other heirs living at the time the Act came into operation. As it is practically certain that the power of entail, and, perhaps, that of transmitting any property to unborn heirs, will be abolished long before Nationalisation is effected, and as land could then be used only for personal occupation, the value of such an annuity would be very great to those who wished to secure a competency to their family during the two generations after them, because they could do this in no other way so easily and so securely. There will, therefore, in all probability, be a great demand for these annuities by trustees and others.
How Tenants may become Occupying Owners.—Having thus shown how the owner would be compensated for the land itself, we proceed to show how the tenant-right would be dealt with, and what would be the position of the purchasers of tenant-right.
The land having been acquired by the State, every existing tenant, at the date the Act came into operation, would be entitled to continue in the occupation of his house, his farm, or his land of any description, as a holder under the State, on payment of the fixed quit-rent; but to constitute him such a State tenant, he must first purchase or otherwise acquire the tenant-right. He will be enabled to do this, either by purchasing it from the landlord under a private arrangement, or, if an agreement as to its value cannot be arrived at, then the official valuer or a “land court,” similar to those which administer the Irish Land Bill, may be called in to determine the fair value. As soon as this is paid by the tenant, he becomes the absolute owner of the tenant-right, and as such the holder of the land under the State in perpetuity, so long as the quit-rent is paid. The tenant-right, which thus carries with it the right to the land (subject to the quit-rent), will be as freely saleable as any other property; it will be capable of being sub-divided, and sold, or bequeathed in portions, and thus the holder of land will, for all beneficial uses, be as much the real owner as if it were a freehold.
As Nationalisation is proposed in order (among other things) to prevent any one being ejected from his house or farm against his will, and as some tenants would not be able to provide the sum necessary to purchase the tenant-right, provision must be made (either by authorised Loan Societies or by municipal authorities) for the advance of the sum required, to be repaid by a terminable rental extending over periods of, say, from 14 to 40 years.
Subletting must be Absolutely Prohibited.—Such a holder under the State would be absolutely free to use his land as he pleased, just as much as a freeholder is now, because he would be the owner of everything but the land itself, and if he chose to deteriorate his property, that would injure no one but himself. As a rule, he would immensely improve it, because it would be his own. There must, however, be one restriction on his use of the land, which is, that he must not sublet it. This is absolutely essential to secure the full benefits of Nationalisation, because, once admit subletting, and landlordism would again rise under another name, and the subtenants would be subject to all the injurious influences and conditions the abolition of which is the very raison d’être of the reform. The State, as owner of the land, can prohibit subletting, and the importance of doing so is admitted by all who have studied the subject. It is well known that in Ireland the middlemen were often the hardest landlords, while none rack-rent their tenants more than those who have purchased land for the purpose of deriving an income from it. Even where peasant proprietorship largely prevails, its benefits are often neutralised by the more successful owners purchasing farms to let to tenants, and it is the universal testimony that evil results ensue. Mr. Thornton states that:—”Peasants who let their land to be cultivated by others are, of all landlords, the most griping. Anything but satisfactory is the condition of the actually cultivating class, wherever, on the one hand, landed property is minutely subdivided, and, on the other hand, is not occupied by its owners. Such is the case throughout Flanders generally, and quite saddening are some of the details given by M. de Laveleye with respect to Flemish tenant-farmers.” It is, therefore, quite clear that subletting must be prevented and personal occupation be insisted on, and this is a sufficient answer to those who advocate assisting tenants to purchase the freehold of their farms, instead of being holders under the State. For wherever, in thickly populated countries, there are small freeholders, they are dying out, owing to the demand for land as an investment. This has been the case, not in England only, but, as we have shown, in many parts of Europe and in America; and it is probable that any such system of purchase would, as the Edinburgh Reviewer already quoted maintains, have to be all done over again after a few generations, while in the meantime it would hardly touch the more important evils which have been shown to be inherent in landlordism.[v]
[v] This would not prevent temporary subletting by permission of the Courts, to keep house or land for minors, and in other analogous cases.
Evils of Subletting in Towns.—Still greater evils arise from subletting in the vicinity of towns, a good illustration of which is furnished by the following statement of the Daily News special commissioner as to the present condition of the town of Killarney. He says:—”The great estates of the Lord Chamberlain have curiously enough been equally damaged by the care and carelessness of his ancestors. His great-grandfather was disgusted at the condition of the town of Killarney, and offered any tenant who would build a decent house with a slate roof a perpetual lease of the land it stood upon and the adjoining garden for the nominal rent of four shillings and fourpence per annum, without other important conditions. The result has been that Killarney can boast of as filthy lanes as any in London or Liverpool. The ordinary process, the same as that which formed the hideous slums between Drury-lane and Great Wild-street, now happily demolished, has gone on in Killarney. Tenants under no restrictions gradually converted their gardens into lanes of hovels, and made money thereby, and the result is a concentration in Killarney of filth which would be better distributed on the side of a mountain, and which is under the nose of a landlord who is powerless to apply a remedy.”
Mortgaging should be Strictly Limited.—Next in importance to the evil of subletting is that of heavy mortgages on the land of the cultivator. Many writers point out this evil, but none suggest any remedy. In Ireland the “Gombeen” men, or usurers, were the curse of the country, while in parts of Austria the small landowners are so deeply indebted to their mortgage creditors that a party has been formed who advocate the annulment of all mortgages on small estates. The State being owner of the land, and the tenant-right being its security for the quit-rent, it may properly regulate the proportionate amount to which mortgages may be permitted on landed property, and may only allow them on condition that they are to be extinguished by annual repayments within a definite period, and it might also very properly refuse to allow the same landowner to mortgage his land more than once, on the ground that he who cannot farm except under a perpetual mortgage should either reduce the amount of his land or give way to those who have sufficient capital.
Whether any Limits should be Placed to the Quantity of Land Personally Occupied.—Before leaving this part of our subject there is one question that must be clearly answered. What limit, if any, should be placed on the quantity of land one person might hold under the State? The Land and Labour League have proposed “that the lands of the country be divided into cultivable quantities, according to quality, of from two to twenty-five acres,” and they further wish all parks and similar large areas of land held for pleasure to be cut up into farms for cultivation. Mr. Fowler, in the “Cobden Club Essays,” seems to think that some such scheme of division is an essential part of all systems of nationalisation, and he thus argues against it:—”But forced sub-division is as objectionable as forced accumulation. The one and the other alike interfere with the natural distribution of the land among the people, and ought, therefore, to be alike opposed by those who advocate the principles of Richard Cobden. We have no right to decide that a holding of one size as such is better in itself than another. It is our place to leave people to find out for themselves what suits them best, provided always that we leave them really free.”
All this is perfectly true, and it is, therefore, proposed to place no restriction whatever on the quantity of land one man may hold for personal occupation. Some men might wish to farm a thousand acres or more, while others would prefer only ten or twenty. And as for parks, woods, and pleasure grounds, there is not the slightest reason, at present, for interfering with these. When the land is really free to all to be held and cultivated without restriction, there will be ample scope for increased production without interfering with these charming oases of sylvan scenery in the midst of often unpicturesque cultivated fields. But it may be said:—”Would you allow a duke or a millionaire to continue to hold ten or a dozen parks and houses in as many counties, as some of them do now?” Even here I see no need for restrictive legislation so long as the duke retained them for his personal occupation. But, as he could not sublet them, and as the estates attached to each of them would be no longer his, what possible reason could he have for retaining them? Now, they are each the centre and visible indication of an estate, and it is a point of honour and dignity to retain them. When the estate was gone there would be no reason whatever for keeping the demesne and house, except in those cases where it was a favourite dwelling. I very much doubt whether, under the conditions here proposed, any proprietor in the kingdom would care about keeping up more than two country houses, and there is certainly no possible reason why he should not do this if he pleases.
It is a strange thing, however, that such men as Mr. Fowler do not see that under mere free trade in land there could be no such freedom of cultivation as he strongly urges us to allow. The whole mass of evidence adduced in this volume shows a constantly increasing monopoly of land by the rich as the wealth of the country has increased, accompanied by a constantly increasing limitation of freedom in the occupation and enjoyment of land. It is useless “leaving people to find out what suits them best,” when land monopoly absolutely prevents them from obtaining what suits them best.
Supposed Objections to Land Nationalisation.—Before proceeding to show how the labourers and the public in general are to be directly benefited, it may be well to reply to a few of the chief objections which have been made to all previous schemes for nationalising the land, and to show that none of them are in any degree applicable to that here advocated. We will begin with Mr. Fowler, who, in the work already quoted, refers to schemes of this kind as being usually vague, adding:—”But the general thought of the proposers is clear enough, viz., that the management of land can safely be entrusted to a department of State, and that thus the interests of the people, as such, in the land can be extended, with the best results to the nation.” He then goes on to argue that the State could not “manage” land advantageously, any more than Corporations, which notoriously manage it very badly. “We know,” he says, “what can be done by private ownership where the law leaves it unfettered, but the experience we have of State management is not encouraging … In State management there is the minimum of private interest with the danger of a maximum of jobbery.”
All this is perfectly true if the State were to acquire the whole of a landed estate (including the tenant-right), and were to let it out and manage it as an existing landlord does; but it is totally untrue as regards the present scheme, in which no “management” whatever is required or is possible, any more than the State “manages” house property because it collects a land-tax from each householder.
Again, Mr. Arthur Arnold, in his “Free Trade in Land,” says:—”The main object for which private property in land is sanctioned by the State, with the concurrence of all rational people, is the belief that such ownership is most successful in promoting production. Production is at present very much neglected, but that is because private ownership is baulked by settlement, and by the “ungodly jumble” of our legal processes. Production would undoubtedly be much greater if private property in land were more firmly and fully established. I cannot think it possible that a Government could promote production with anything like the power which may be obtained from private ownership.”
Here again we have the idea of “management,” in “Government promoting production.” But on our system Government would do nothing but leave production absolutely free under a system of universal “occupying ownership,” which has been clearly demonstrated to be the form of ownership which most stimulates “production.” Mr. G. Shaw Lefevre, M.P., although an advanced land-reformer, and fully aware of the advantages of any form of occupying ownership, is yet staggered by the practical difficulties in the way of its realisation. At a meeting of the Statistical Society in November, 1880, he said, after referring to the differences between Ireland and England:—”In this country, where the farms were larger, it would require a very large amount to be advanced by the State to enable a tenant to become the owner of his holding, and, apart from all other considerations, he believed the financial difficulties would be insurmountable. But he hoped that with greater freedom in the sale and transfer of land, there would be many instances in England in which ownership would be annexed to the cultivation of land, and the more this condition of things spread, the greater would be the inducements to good agriculture.”
By the scheme here developed, however, no advance whatever need be made by the State, while ownership annexed to the cultivation of the land, which Mr. Shaw Lefevre declares to be so beneficial, would become universal.
The Hon. George C. Brodrick, in his excellent work on “English Land and English Landlords,” remarks:—”No doubt, it is a perfectly intelligible proposition that all the land in the Kingdom ought to be ‘nationalised’ and placed under public management, because individual owners cannot be trusted with full dominion over that part of the earth’s surface by which and upon which all the natives of England must live, unless they choose to emigrate. It is evident that, apart from all other objections, this doctrine is the very negation of the belief in peasant-proprietorship and ‘the magic of property,’ being, in fact, an essentially urban sentiment, and inevitably destructive to all independence of rural life. Nor can it be said that our experience of corporate administration, in the case of lands held by collegiate, ecclesiastical, and municipal bodies, as well as by trustees of charities, is such as to recommend the substitution of public for private ownership on a much grander scale.” Here we have exactly the same idea of the necessity for “management” by the State as land-owner, and a complete misconception of the real nature of “nationalisation” as here developed.
Even Mr. J. Boyd Kinnear, who, in his valuable work, “Principles of Property in Land,” has written so strongly on the evils of landlordism and the benefits of occupying ownership, sees the same supposed difficulties in nationalisation. He asks:—”But how is the State to perform the functions of landlord?” and he proceeds to show, at great length and with irresistible logic, the evils of any interference of the State in the cultivation or use of land. But this is all quite beside the question if the State owns the land only, not the improvements on the land, or “tenant-right.” The late John Stuart Mill also was only withheld from proposing nationalisation of the land by the same difficulty. In his opening address to the Land Tenure Reform Association he said, speaking of nationalisation:—”I do not know that it may not be reserved for us in the future; but at present I decidedly do not think it expedient. I have so poor an opinion of State management, or municipal management either, that I am afraid many years would elapse before the revenue realised for the State would be sufficient to pay the indemnity which would be justly claimed by the dispossessed proprietors.”
This is really the sole objection of the slightest importance that has been urged by most writers of eminence who have made a special study of the subject, and I have sought in vain for any more serious one. It follows that no valid objection has been yet urged which applies to the system of nationalisation here proposed.
How Nationalisation will Affect Towns.—However disastrous landlordism has been in the agricultural districts, its evils have been still more severely felt in towns and cities. Here the landlord has been complete master of the situation, and has been able to make his own terms, which the people have been bound to accept. These terms have amounted to the systematic confiscation of the property of others by the custom of building-leases and renewals; and, together with the temptation of large profits to be made by speculation in building sites, have led to cheap and bad building, and frightful overcrowding of the poorer classes in courts, alleys, and cellars. These unsanitary conditions necessarily produce persistent disease as well as many social evils, while they greatly intensify if they do not originate most of the severe epidemics which still periodically attack us. These evils continue in full force to this very day, and under the present system of land-monopoly are quite incurable. As an example of confiscation—strictly legal, but none the less real—I give the following letter, which appeared in the Echo of October last year:—
“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 34 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 34 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 tradespeople, 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 tradespeople to enrich the aristocracy.
“Baker Street, Oct. 26.?”ENGLISHWOMAN.”
This is a typical case—though probably an extreme one— and it well shows how helpless the public are, and how, under the threat of eviction, they can be robbed by the form of free contract and under the protection of the law. We next give one example, equally typical but far more common, of the kind of dwelling landlordism provides for the poor.
It is from a coroner’s inquest on the body of a child which was killed simply by the foul air of the dwelling, as reported in the Daily News, of November 16th, 1881:—”Last evening Mr. Samuel F. Langham, deputy coroner for Westminster, held an inquest at St. Martin’s Vestry Hall, Strand, touching the death of William Howard, aged 11 months, lately living with his parents at No. 6, Hanover-court, Long-acre, who died on Friday, it was alleged from the unhealthy and unsanitary condition of the house.—Mrs. Emily Howard, wife of a labourer, and mother of the deceased, said that her child had been sickly from its birth. At about seven o’clock last Friday deceased was taken with a fit, and it rallied until ten o’clock, when it had another, and died in half an hour. She believed her child had died from the stench that came from the watercloset and yard, which were abominably unhealthy. She had occupied the first floor back for 18 months. She had not made any complaint to the landlord until after the death of the deceased. The cistern was right underneath the window and over the dusthole.—William Howard, the father, said that his window was just over the watercloset, and the stench was sometimes suffocating. He did not give notice because it was difficult to get another cheap place to live in.—Mr. Robert William Dunn, surgeon, 13, Surrey-street, Strand, deposed to having attended at the house and finding the child dead. Several people in the house complained of the unhealthy state of the place, one man saying he had never been well since he had lived in the house. The place smelt of sewage. It made him sick when he entered. The deceased died from convulsions.—The Foreman of the jury: I myself am suffering from bad drainage in this neighbourhood, and several people in my house are suffering from the same cause, and the chances are that someone will become seriously ill.—The Doctor: I should not be surprised if typhoid fever were to break out in the house, especially seeing the position of the cistern and the watercloset.”
In another inquest reported in the same day’s paper in another part of London, the Divisional Surgeon of Police said—”that the parents and two children slept in one bed; that the room was very unhealthy and quite unfit for human habitation.” The coroner “had no doubt that, if the wretched, poverty-stricken people could go to clean and decent houses for a little money, such scandals as the Marylebone fever dens would cease to exist. The poor were compelled to herd and crowd and shift for themselves as best they could, and the fever and disease and death went on year by year, notwithstanding the march of science and medical sanitation.”
Now, these are the direct results of private property in land under the conditions which prevail in this country. The consolidation of farms, and the destruction of cottages, so much favoured by great landlords and their agents, have driven the labourers from the country into the towns; and land-monopoly in its necessary action brings about the condition of their dwellings above indicated. That the labourers are thus forced to the towns has been shown in my earlier chapters. The fact is clearly proved by the returns of the last census, and public writers have been deploring it, without, apparently, seeing its cause and its only cure; and if further evidence is wanted of the serious character of this movement and its danger to the country, it is to be found in Mr. John Bright’s speech at Rochdale, on his 70th birthday. He says:—”There is another question which workmen everywhere should learn and bear in mind—that the labour in the agricultural districts was becoming more and more costly, whilst it was worse in quality, because the younger people, finding that they had no tie to the soil, that they can never become anything but labourers at very low wages, are leaving the rural parishes in which they have been born. They are emigrating to the great towns in the neighbourhood, and not a few of them are emigrating to the countries across the ocean. The result is that our landed system, with its great estates and farms, cuts off the labourer almost entirely from the possibility of becoming either a tenant or an owner of the land, and as he has no object in remaining there, he goes away. The Education Act now being put in force throughout the rural districts will add greatly to this effect. I had a letter not long ago from a clergyman who had lived many years in the south, and he told me he had noticed the result continually, and he thought it was one which must be seen much more in the future than in the past, because as all young people got some sort of education in the school, although not a thorough education, they were so far educated that they could read the newspaper and see what was being done in other parts of the country and in other countries; and they, looking with a hopeless feeling at their position, emigrate therefore to the large towns, in the hope of bettering their condition, or they emigrate to foreign countries, and the result is that only the poorest labour is left behind, whilst it also becomes costlier and becomes more and more an increasing burden upon the farmer.”
I have called attention, by italics, to a few passages in this weighty paragraph, because they show that up to this very day there is no tendency whatever to better the condition of the rural labourers; while they fully support my contention that the overcrowding of towns, with its inevitable accompaniments of misery, vice, and disease, is the direct product of “our landed system.”
The cure of the evils of building-lease confiscation and some of those of overcrowding will probably be effected earlier than complete nationalisation; for already there is a movement on foot for obtaining “tenant-right” for London, and, certainly, the case is exactly analogous to that of the Irish tenant-farmer who has made all the improvements on the land. If justice requires that he should be protected from having his property confiscated, the same rule applies still more strongly in cases where the property on the land bears so large a proportion to the value of the land as it does in the case of the leasehold houses of London and other great cities. The true and only effectual cure for all these iniquities and horrors is, however, to draw back the population from the towns to the country by the natural and healthy process of offering that greatest of all attractions—a free choice to every one of cheap land; and how this is to be done will be shown immediately. Till that takes place some arrangement will have to be made by which the occupiers of town houses may become their owners. With the better class of houses this will follow exactly the same lines as the transfer of the land. The owner of the freehold or of the improved ground-rent will be compensated by a State annuity, while the house itself will be purchased by the tenant at a fair valuation, and, if desired, by means of a terminable rental. As regards the poorer class of houses and those large buildings let out as offices or in flats, either the municipality or some other authorised associations might purchase them, and let them out to such tenants as do not require entire houses or permanent dwellings.
We now pass on to the mode by which labourers and the public might acquire land.
Free-selection of Residential Plots by Labourers and others.—The large mass of evidence collected in this volume conclusively shows that innumerable evils arise owing to the impossibility, under the present system, of acquiring land in small plots at agricultural prices. Such an unnatural state of things has been brought about by land monopoly, and so complete is the divorce of the great body of Englishmen from any right of ownership in their native soil, that, when nationalisation permits it, special arrangements must be made to allow of a speedy return to a more healthy condition.
There is no one privilege so beneficial to the members of a community as to have an ample space of land on which to live. Surround the poorest cottage with a spacious vegetable garden, with fruit and shade trees, with room for keeping pigs and poultry, and for storing the house-refuse and manure at some distance from the dwelling, and give the occupier a permanent tenure at a low quit-rent, and the result is absolutely invariable. Such conditions, or anything approaching to them, always produce untiring industry and thrift, always remove the occupiers above poverty and pauperism, always produce health and contentment, always diminish, if they do not abolish, drunkenness and crime. Under such conditions the poorest cot would soon be improved and made into a comfortable dwelling; the surplus fruit, vegetables, eggs, bacon, and other produce would benefit all the dwellers in the neighbouring towns, while the increased well-being of the rural population would react on all other occupations and revivify our home trade.
Equally important is it to every tradesman to be able to have a country house (if he can afford one) in which to bring up a healthy family, and this blessing a free choice of land at its fair agricultural value would give to thousands to whom it is now an unattainable dream. When the land has been acquired by the nation, every Englishman may claim an equal right to possess a portion of it for personal occupation at its fair value, subject only to the equal rights of others, and to some amount of restriction as to quantity and situation in order not to interfere unnecessarily with agriculture or to inconvenience those already in possession.
The mode in which this great boon may be obtained is simple. Every Englishman should be allowed, once in his life, to select a plot of land for his personal occupation. His right of choice will, of course, be limited to agricultural or waste land; it will also be limited to land bordered by public roads affording access to it; it will further be limited to a quantity of not less than one acre or more than five acres, and will cease on any estate from which a fixed proportion, say ten per cent. has been taken during the life of the holder, while it should not apply to very small holdings; and finally, it will be limited by proximity to the dwelling of the occupier of the land, so as to subject him to no unnecessary annoyance. These limitations would be determined in each case by a local Court of the same character as the Sub-Commissions under the Irish Land Act, who would visit the ground, hear the statements of both parties, and finally mark out the lot granted. The Court would also determine the proportion of the quit-rent to be taken over by the new occupier, and the amount to be paid the farmer for his tenant-right of the plot in question.
The limit of quantity has been fixed by the consideration that it is not for the public benefit that a house shall occupy less than one acre of land. Any labourer may easily cultivate this quantity in his spare hours with the assistance of his family, or he may stock it with fruit trees and devote it to poultry runs; while it would afford sufficient space for keeping all disagreeable smells some distance from the house or road, thus avoiding any unhealthiness or public nuisance. The higher limit of five acres is intended for those who want land enough to keep a horse or cow, which thousands would do could they have land with their house at a moderate price; and it need hardly be said how much this would add to the health and enjoyment of a country life. Many have recognised the advantages of such a right of purchase of land, but under no system but Nationalisation is it possible to realise it. Dr. Macdonald in a letter to the Echo newspaper well says:—
“There must be freedom of land and its equitable distribution. It is simply scandalous that a poor man cannot get an acre of land for his cottage and garden, while the rich have tens of thousands of acres for parks and sporting grounds. Every person has a natural right to a permanent home in his native land, and how can we expect patriotism if this cannot be obtained? Moreover, the acquisition of a bit of land is the only thing that will raise a man from serfdom to comparative independence … A man with an acre of land of his own is virtually independent, as he has always something to fall back upon when work fails, and it encourages in him a spirit of enterprise and thrift which may enable him to acquire five acres or more in time. He could build himself a comfortable cottage, instead of living in the wretched hovels we see in most of our villages. For an industrious man to grow food for himself and his family on his own land is the straight road to prosperity and happiness; and there is no occupation so healthful and natural, and none so calculated to bring out the best qualities of man’s nature as husbandry. Moreover, the prosperity of agriculture very greatly depends on the cultivator having a permanent holding on the land he cultivates. Excessive rents and evictions insure a ruined people and a ruined soil.” But he suggests no method of bringing this about except by the purchase of land from existing landowners, and selling it again to labourers—of course, at present monopoly and speculative prices.[vi]
[vi] The permanent possession of a plot of land would have the effect of securing the labourer of all kinds from that absolute dependence on the capitalist which, as pointed out in my first chapter, is one great cause of poverty and pauperism. It would be the first and greatest step in bringing about the state of things which Professor Cairnes recognised as that which alone would elevate the labourer. He says:—"It appears to me that the condition of any substantial improvement of a permanent kind in the labourer's lot is, that the separation of the industrial classes into labourers and capitalists which now prevails shall not be maintained; that the labourer shall cease to be a mere labourer" (p. 339, Cairnes, "Some Leading Principles," &c.). Now the possessor of land would be a capitalist as well as a labourer. He would be in a position to bargain on equal terms with his employer. He would be, what he is not now, a free man.
Objections to the Right of Free-selection.—The only objection that has been made, or that perhaps can be made, to the exercise of this right of selection and purchase of a plot of land, is, that it will injuriously cut up farms and interfere with farming, and that the farmers will violently oppose it. But with the careful restrictions and limitations above indicated, it is absurd to place the small injury or inconvenience it might be to a few farmers against the vast benefit to the acquirers of the land and to the whole community. Do farmers now refuse to take farms when the landlord reserves the right of taking portions to let for building? Are they seriously injured when a railroad or other public work takes some of their land? Yet in both these cases the injury is far greater than would ever be the case under free-selection. For there is in the former cases no limitation to quantity, shape, or position. A man’s fields may be cut across diagonally by a railroad, or his best piece of pasture may be taken away to build on, and the farmers have never cried out against this cutting up of their lands, probably because they know it would be useless. It is almost certain that the quantity of land taken for occupation would in most districts be not very large, and might not in many years equal the quantity taken for railroads and the waste-heaps of mines and factories. In this case, too, the farmers would directly benefit by the operation. It would secure them a body of thrifty and industrious labourers, attached to the soil, and therefore always at hand to labour when wanted; while, having resources of their own, they would never require to be set to unprofitable work merely to keep them on, nor would they swell the poor rates by being periodically in the receipt of parish relief. It would also secure a comparatively wealthy rural population, which would aid in keeping the labourers employed at odd jobs when farming work was slack, and would furnish a market for some of the farmers’ produce or stock. It must also be remembered that for all land taken from his farm for this purpose the farmer would be fairly and fully compensated, while his objections and wishes would be so far respected as to keep away all intrusion which could be any real injury or annoyance to him. He would, therefore, have no solid grounds for objection to a measure calculated to produce such widely beneficial results, and would probably have the good sense to see that personal predilections must, in this case, as in every other, give way to the public benefit.[vii]
[vii] In the Contemporary Review of March 1882, the Rev. W. L. Blackley, (author of the admirable scheme of National Insurance now exciting so much attention) endeavours to demonstrate the absurdity of this proposal "by a very simple process of arithmetic." He shows clearly that if every man and woman over 20 years of age should claim his or her five acres, the whole agricultural land of the country would not suffice to supply them. It is surprising that a writer so acute and logical as Mr. Blackley usually is did not see the futility of such an objection. Its whole force depends on the supposition that such classes of people as domestic servants, City clerks, small tradesmen, and shopkeepers, and the whole body of unmarried men and women, should have the desire and the means of suddenly quitting their present mode of life and purchasing or renting five acres of land each for personal occupation! As well might a person reading for the first time of the 100 acre lots offered in Canada and Australia, almost for nothing, and knowing the high wages of mechanics and domestic servants in those countries, jump to the conclusion that these same classes will at once emigrate en masse, and thus leave England entirely destitute of workers. Let us, however, see what are the actual probabilities of the case.
The total number of families in Great Britain is about six millions, and it is with families we have to deal, since single men and women do not, as a rule, occupy separate houses, much less land. Of these about a million will be comprised in the categories of landowners, farmers, merchants, and the official and professional classes, whose wants as regards land for personal occupation are already, for the most part, supplied. Of the remainder, about three millions are town dwellers, and probably only a small percentage of these would be in a position to utilise land in the country. Perhaps 10 per cent. would be a sufficient estimate, but to give ample margin we will take 16 per cent., or about half a million in all, and most of these would not care to have more than an acre or two. There remains the poorer country dwelling families, mostly labourers, mechanics, and village tradesmen, and of these a larger proportion—perhaps half the whole number—might take advantage of the right of pre-emption within the first ten years. This would make, together, one and a half million families; and if we put the average amount of land taken by each at two acres, we arrive at a total of three millions of acres thus occupied, or rather less than 10 per cent. of the whole agricultural land of the country. Probably, however, a portion of this amount would be taken from the commons and waste lands, which could be had at a cheaper rate. The quantity thus taken would no doubt go on slowly increasing, and possibly, in the course of centuries, the bulk of the whole land of our country might come to be occupied in small farms or residential plots, the produce of which would, in most cases, be supplementary to the gains of some industrial occupation. But so far from there being anything to dread in this, if the illustrative facts adduced in this volume teach us one thing more clearly than another, it is that such a consummation would be an unmixed blessing—that it would give us a healthy, happy, and contented population, in which want and pauperism would be unknown, while our land would be covered with a succession of gardens and of cottage farms as in the Channel Islands, producing far more both of human food and human happiness than it could produce in any other way.
Why Free-selection should be restricted to Once in a Man’s Life.—It may, perhaps, be said, if this free-selection is so beneficial to the community, why restrict it to once in a man’s life? When he wants to settle in another part of the country why should he not select again? The reason of this restriction is, however, obvious. It is granted once, because, in many districts, all the land being already occupied, the landless Englishman has no means of acquiring land to live upon in the quantities and situations most advantageous to him. He would have to bribe the actual holders with a high price, and even then would often be refused. It is to give him the opportunity of living where he pleases, when he is in a position to require a permanent home, but it is not intended to afford the means of speculation, or of making a profit by selecting choice spots, building houses on them, and then selling them. This restriction to one choice will make men very careful not to choose too early, and thus not to throw away their privilege; while, as there will always be a certain number of persons in every part of the country who are obliged by circumstances to sell their lots, these, in addition to the houses always in the market, will enable those who require temporary houses as well as those who have been obliged to part with their selected lots, to find houses more or less suitable to them with greater ease than at present. These considerations show that there will be no great rush for lots, as some critics of the scheme have hastily imagined, but that, except near towns, farmers would be comparatively little troubled by the free-selectors. It must also be remembered that it is often the most worthless parts of an estate that are most desired for residential purposes—bits of healthy upland, or woody spots with a fine view, while the rich, open arable fields, the low meadows, or the open pastures would be comparatively neglected.
Free-selection would Check the Growth of Towns, and Add to the Beauty and Enjoyability of Rural Districts.—There can be no doubt whatever that the power of obtaining land where and when required would lead to a steady flow of population from the towns to the country. Villages in all the more picturesque parts of the country which, at the will of great landowners, have remained for generations stationary, would steadily increase in population; but, as building speculation would be almost impossible, they would grow in the most picturesque manner by the addition here and there of single houses, of every size and cost, but never crowded together, so that the rural beauty of the district would not be marred. We should never see then (as we may often see now) noble old trees ruthlessly cut down, because they interfere with building on the narrow strips into which the land-speculator cuts up his lots, while no further additions would be made to those unsightly rows of hideous cottages which the farmer, the manufacturer, or the local speculative builder now provides for the labouring population.
The quantity of land, even in the smallest lots, would enable the occupier to dispose of all the house sewage, in the only natural and economical manner, by applying it to the fertilisation of his own ground; and this application should even be made compulsory, so that no further pollution of streams and no more gigantic drainage works would be necessary. It may, perhaps, be said that the owner of an acre lot would cut it up into three or four smaller lots to dispose of at a profit; but it may safely be predicted that this would not be done. The working man is too anxious to obtain land, and is too keenly alive to the inestimable benefits it confers upon him, to take a smaller quantity than his acre when the amount to be paid for that acre would be merely its agricultural value. No compulsory enactment against the subdivision of lots would be needed, because their subdivision would rarely or never be profitable (see Appendix).
How Commons may be Preserved and Utilised.—Some reference has been made in the fifth chapter to the way in which so many of our commons have been enclosed, for the sole aggrandisement of landlords and to the injury of all other residents and of the whole community. In some parts of the country, however, extensive commons still remain unenclosed, but usually where there is a very scanty rural population to benefit by them. Such is the case on the borders of Surrey, Sussex, and Hampshire, and there are enormous tracts in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland which, though claimed as private property, have never been enclosed, but remain in an absolute state of nature. On all such lands there can be no claim for tenant-right, and they would therefore become the property of the State on payment of annuities, in the one case to the Lords of the Manor, in the other to the present owners, of an amount equal to the average annual proceeds.
When these commons are not very extensive they would, of course, be preserved as common pasture land for the surrounding occupiers and cottagers, who might also have the customary rights of cutting fern or gorse, digging sand, gravel, or peat, under proper supervision of some local authority. All the more extensive of these wastes, however, would afford the opportunity for cultivation by labourers or small farmers, who might have choice of sites, on areas marked out as open to selection, on payment of a low quit-rent, which might be higher than the value of the land as unenclosed pasture, but much lower than that of the surrounding enclosed fields. A limit should be placed to the quantity allowed to be taken by one person, and this need not be high, because the holder would have extensive rights of pasturage over the whole common in addition. Ten acres might be a proper first limit, but when this quantity was brought into good cultivation and a house built, another ten acres might be granted on the same terms. In this way the more fertile and sheltered portions of all the great commons, heaths, and mountain wastes of the country might be gradually covered with small farms and cheerful homesteads, while still retaining extensive tracts of unenclosed land as common pasture, and as recreation ground and health-resorts for our ever-growing population. The numerous cases of the reclamation of the worst mountain land in Ireland by tenants with only a temporary occupancy afford us some idea of the beneficial results to our pauperised and landless population of the right to improve and cultivate waste land for their own exclusive benefit, with no fear of the interference of lords of the land or of the manor.
How Minerals should be Worked under State Ownership.—In the fifth chapter I have briefly alluded to the evil consequences to the public at large of allowing our mineral wealth to be appropriated by individuals, and our country permanently deteriorated and impoverished for their benefit. I have not, however, yet referred to the unfair manner in which landlords often absorb all the profits of mines, leaving nothing whatever to those who have supplied the large capital required to work them. Minerals are usually worked by companies, on short leases, and the landowner is compensated by payment of a royalty on all the produce, not by a share of the profits. This was reasonable in the early days of mining, when no expensive machinery was required, and small parties of working miners, or “adventurers,” often with little or no capital, extracted rich ores from near the surface. Then the produce was nearly all profit, and a royalty of one-tenth to one-twelfth of the actual value of the ore extracted was not found to be oppressive. Now the case is very different. Mineral lodes are worked at an enormous depth, and poor ores, neglected by the old miners, are extracted, and the metal obtained from them by complex and expensive operations. Enormous pumping and lifting engines are required, tramroads have to be made, workshops to be built, and coal brought up to the mines at heavy cost. It is not uncommon for the mere working expenses of a mine to be a thousand or fifteen hundred pounds a month, and it is only after ore enough has been extracted to pay this amount that any profits are obtained to pay interest on the capital expended. It thus often happens that for years a mining company never obtains sufficient to pay a single penny of dividend, notwithstanding all possible skill and economy in working the mine. The shareholders lose their whole capital; but not only does the landlord lose nothing, but he receives a large income the whole time from this mine which is really proved to be worthless. The chances of great profits in mining cause numbers of such mines to be opened and worked every year, and from all these the landlord alone gets a profit, while everyone else loses. It is a partnership in which one partner supplies a chance of something valuable, the other partner a large capital to be spent in proving whether that something valuable exists or not. Yet the partner who gives only the chance, and does not risk a penny, secures a certain gain, even when his chance is proved to be valueless, while the other partners, who advance all the money, risk losing it all, or, if they succeed, share all the gain with the partner who risks nothing.
Under the present system of mining the only equitable mode of arranging the partnership between owner of the soil and those who find the capital to work a mine would be, that the former should receive a share of the profits—not of the produce; that is, that the land to be explored should be estimated at a certain portion of the total capital, and the landowner should receive his dividends on that nominal capital pro rata with the other shareholders. The present system is simple confiscation, analogous to that of leasehold houses, but even more cruel, since, in many cases, the profit realised would give a fair interest on the capital expended were it not all absorbed in the prior claim of the landlord’s “royalty.”
When the State owns the land, the more equitable system, of a small fixed quit-rent for the land occupied and a fixed proportion of the profits realised, would be adopted; and it would greatly benefit the mineral industry of the country by rendering the working of many poor ores profitable. In the case of coal and iron, so essential to the well-being of a nation, and, owing to their bulk and weight, most disadvantageous to import from other countries, the State might properly place a heavy duty on their export, which would have the effect of limiting the trade in them to those countries in which they do not exist, while it would stimulate the development of the mineral resources of countries which do possess them but have hitherto depended upon getting them from us at very cheap rates.
As it would be almost impossible to estimate the average value of the produce of minerals in any plot of land, some other mode would have to be adopted in compensating landlords for the minerals they have so unfortunately been allowed to claim possession of. The fair way would probably be for Government to fix the percentage of the whole profits which should in future be paid for each class of mines by the workers of mineral property, and to allow each landowner to receive this percentage from the companies or private persons who work the mines during his own life only. Afterwards the same percentage would be paid to the State, which would, however, repay half the amount to the next heir for his life. All new mines opened after the Act came into operation would, of course, wholly belong to the State. Considering the very exceptional character of the mineral wealth of a country, and the enormous fortunes landowners have derived from it without spending or risking a penny, this proposal is, perhaps, hardly fair to the public, and, when land nationalisation is effected, may require to be somewhat modified.
Application of the Same General Principle to All Other Charges on the Land.—The principle here developed, by which the land itself becomes the property of the State on payment to the actual owners of an annuity for themselves and their living heirs, is applicable to all kinds of landed property and to all charges whatever upon the land. Tithes, for example, would in this way be extinguished so far as they belong to lay impropriators, and the payments by the future tenants would form part of the State quit-rent. Tithes payable to the clergy would be dealt with in the same way, but the annuities for which they were commuted would, of course, be continued so long as the endowment of the Church continues, and whenever that ceases the revenues would merge into those of the State. In like manner every kind of ground-rent, whether original or improved, whether for terms of years or in reversion, would each be valued on actuarial principles, and commuted into annuities of the same nature and the same duration as those paid to owners of the fee-simple of land. The quit-rent payable by the holder of the land in question would be divided among the several holders of distinct interests in the land in proportions determined by official actuaries, and each would receive the corresponding annuity.
Progressive Reduction of Taxation; Abolition of Customs and Excise.—Among the advantages resulting from this scheme of land nationalisation, not the least important would be, the great alleviation of public burdens and reduction of public expenditure. In a very few years after it came into operation some properties would fall to the State, owing to the successive deaths of the two or three generations of heirs. This might happen in some few instances within a year or two, and a regular stream of such cases would certainly begin in ten or twenty years, and would thenceforth increase, till in about a century the whole of the quit-rents would be payable to the State. This would enable the Government to take off one by one all the more oppressive taxes, and to gradually abolish altogether the Customs and Excise duties. The effect of this would be to release from unproductive labour the whole body of officials in these departments, whose salaries and office expenses amounted in 1880 to £2,784,316; and if we add to this a proportion of the cost of public buildings, we shall have a saving of £3,000,000 annually, besides a large capital sum derived from the sale of all the offices and warehouses connected with these departments and an income from the quit-rents of the land they occupied. As the net receipts from these two sources of revenues are about £45,000,000, while the quit-rents derived from the whole land of the country will certainly be more than £100,000,000, the same generation which sees nationalisation established will derive the benefit of much of the reduction, while many persons now living may see these injurious taxes wholly abolished. Thereafter there will be a possibility of rapidly extinguishing our huge national debt, which, though capitalists and speculators may find it a convenience, is at once a clog upon industry and a danger to the State.
The benefit to the trade and commerce of the country produced by the abolition of all customs and excise duties cannot be overrated. Mr. Bright has long advocated a “free breakfast table” as the extreme reform in this direction he can even hope for; but nationalisation would afford us the power to obtain absolute freedom in our whole internal trade; and the more important part of this is, perhaps, not the release from money payments, but the freedom from all those vexatious interferences and restrictions which are the greatest clog on the wheels of industry.
These advantages are so enormous, so totally beyond what any other reform can give or promise, that even if they stood alone they would afford a justification for Land Nationalisation. Yet they are really mere incidental effects of the scheme, which rests its claim to support, primarily, on the improvement it would effect in the condition of labourers and producers of all kinds, an improvement which would be social and moral as well as merely physical, and would raise the status and add to the well-being of the whole community.
Summary of the Advantages of Nationalisation.—Having now completed our necessarily imperfect survey of this great question, let us endeavour to summarise, in the form of a series of brief propositions, the conclusions we have arrived at, and which, it is maintained, have been demonstrated by an overwhelming body of evidence.
It has been shown that unrestricted private property in land is inherently wrong, and leads to serious and widespread evils—for the following reasons:—
BECAUSE—It gives to the class of landowners despotic power over the freedom, the property, the happiness, and even over the lives of their fellow citizens who are not landowners. The wholesale evictions in the Highlands of Scotland and in Ireland, where houses and whole villages have been destroyed and the human inhabitants have been replaced by cattle or deer, often for no crime or fault of theirs, but simply to carry into effect the will of the landlord, are the most glaring examples of the truth of this proposition. Even in England similar cases occur, though less frequently; but the tenant is often coerced in his political rights, is interfered with in the free exercise of his religion, and is generally subject to the will of his landlord in many other ways. In all these cases the State is avowedly powerless to protect the tenants, who are nevertheless told that they are free citizens of a free country, that the Englishman’s house is his castle, and that there is no wrong without a legal remedy.
BECAUSE—by possession of the land, which is absolutely essential to all productive labour, and even to life itself, it enables the landowners to absorb all the surplus profits of both labour and capital, keeping down the wages of unskilled labour (which regulates that of labour generally) to the lowest point at which life can be supported, the result being, that large masses of the working people are condemned to exist under unnatural and degrading conditions of poverty, and that pauperism is made chronic among us notwithstanding our ever-increasing wealth. For the same reason it keeps down the rate of interest, enabling large capitalists alone to thrive, while small capitalists can hardly live. In all civilised countries, and at various periods of history, the same phenomena have been observed—where land is cheap, wages and interest are comparatively high; where land is dear, both are comparatively low.
BECAUSE—the divided and often conflicting interests it creates in the soil check permanent improvement, limit the variety of crops and of agricultural industry, and seriously diminish production. This evil is admitted to be great even where leases are granted, but is at its maximum under the system of yearly tenancies which are now the rule in this country.
BECAUSE—it has to a large extent caused and now perpetuates pauperism, by depriving the labourer of any rights in the soil of his native land, and destroying to a large extent his home feelings and interests. This has been aggravated by the enclosure of so many of the commons, which were the labourers’ heritage from the past, by the clearing estates of cottages to avoid the burthen of poor-rates or to make “show villages,” and by leaving the poor to the mercy of speculators for their dwellings, usually of the most wretched character, without land or gardens, and often far removed from the scene of their daily labours.
BECAUSE—it interferes with the freedom which every citizen of a free country should have of obtaining a healthy dwelling (in proportion to his means) in any part of the country he may prefer, and with a sufficiency of land around it for health, recreation, and garden cultivation, at approximately the same cost of agricultural land. He is now forced to live only where landowners will allow him, in houses erected by speculative builders for show rather than for health, comfort, and permanence, on land costing from ten to a hundred times its agricultural value, or leased out for a term of years in order finally to be confiscated by the landlord for the aggrandisement of his successor.
BECAUSE—it has led and still leads to the enclosure or appropriation of all unenclosed lands for the exclusive benefit of landowners, thus depriving the entire population of the country of rights they have enjoyed from time immemorial; to the stopping of footpaths, the destruction of roadside greens, and the exclusion of the people from much of the wild and beautiful scenery of their native land.
BECAUSE—it gives to a limited class the power of permanently impoverishing the country for their private benefit by the excessive export of minerals, which, being limited in quantity and not producible by man, should be jealously guarded for the use of the nation, with due regard to the needs of our successors.
BECAUSE—it gives to individuals a large proportion of the wealth created by the community at large. All land has doubled in value—much of it has increased a hundred-fold or even a thousand-fold in value during the present century; and this increased value, due to the growth, industry, and enterprise of the people at large, has become the property of a body of men who, for the most part, have had the very smallest share in creating it.
BECAUSE—it involves the continued existence of a large body of citizens living in idleness on revenues derived from the labour and skill of the working classes, and who constitute therefore, a permanent and injurious burden on the industry of the people.
For these reasons it is essential to the well-being of the community that unrestricted private property in land be abolished.
BECAUSE—in every one of these cases in which the present system of Landlordism produces evil results, and carries with it the curse of pauperism and crime, a well-guarded system of Occupying Ownership under the State is calculated to produce beneficial results—to diminish pauperism and crime, and to add to the general well-being of the whole community—it therefore becomes necessary that some such system of Land Nationalisation as that here sketched out be speedily established.
I conclude with a quotation from Mr. J. Boyd Kinnear’s important and instructive volume:—
“Who does not see how much happier England will be when, instead of one great mansion surrounded by miles beyond miles of one huge property, farmed by the tenants-at-will of one landlord, tilled by the mere labourers, whose youth and manhood know no relaxation from rough mechanical toil, whose old age sees no home but the chance of charity or the certainty of the workhouse, there shall be a thousand estates of varying size, where each owner shall work for himself and his children, where the sense of independence shall lighten the burdens of daily toil, where education shall give resources, and the labour of youth shall suffice for the support of age.”
Working men of England! I have here shown you how this improved social condition may be brought about. It is for you to make your voices heard and insist that it be made the question of the day by your chosen representatives in the Legislature.