Is there a cure for unemployment?

by Frederick Verinder (1921)

So long ago as October, 1915, I uttered a warning[1] as to the widespread unemployment that would certainly follow the Great War. This warning, taken up by the Labour Party fifteen months later, has, unfortunately, been only too completely justified. The feverish and factitious “prosperity” of the War years, stimulated by the lavish expenditure of borrowed money, has departed, and we are faced with a volume of unemployment which, I should imagine, exceeds, both absolutely and relatively, anything of the kind ever before known in this country. There is no need to give statistics. The number of persons wholly or partly out of work is even now, as I write, increasing day by day, and the figures, if I could give them, would be out of date almost as soon as written; but their recital could hardly deepen the sense we all have of the pitiable condition of misery to which millions of our fellow-citizens are reduced in the country which was to be made a fit home for the heroes who are now being encouraged to emigrate from it.

Futile “Remedies” for a Vital Problem.

Unemployment is always with us, more or less. What we are now experiencing is an unusually acute stage of a chronic social disease. We shall not have done with it when the acute stage is passed. For the unemployment problem lies very near the root of our labour troubles, and there is little doubt that most of the labour unrest which has been prevalent since the War has been due to the workers’ instinctive and well-founded fear of the effects, upon employment and wages generally, of the inevitable post-war period of unemployment. Henry George once asked the American Church Congress: “Is our civilisation just to working men?” and answered his own question in the negative.[2] The late Charles Booth, as a result of his investigations in a district where the results of social injustice were and are painfully apparent, wrote:[3] “The modern system of industry will not work without some unemployed margin—some reserve of labour.” Karl Marx has said the same thing, but much less tersely.[4]

What he calls the “capitalist” system depends for its existence on the availability of a sufficient number of unemployed to keep down the general level of wages; though, of course, the thing must not be overdone, for “labour deteriorates under casual employment” (and a fortiori under complete unemployment) “more than its price falls,”[5] while the lowering of the standard of living and the sapping of morale, inseparable from prolonged under- or non-employment tend to the creation of “unemployables” who become a permanent disgrace to and burden upon the community. The problem, therefore, of making our civilisation just to working men is mainly the problem of getting rid of unemployment.

The best time to consider this problem would undoubtedly be a time when we are not worried by the spectacle of excessive unemployment with its attendant destitution and suffering. Unfortunately, this is precisely the time when most English people refuse to consider the subject at all. It is not until large masses of unemployed make themselves seen and heard, and the slowing down of industry threatens the prosperity of the nation and the comfort of its citizens, that people, too worried by fear of riots to be able to think, raise the cry that “something must be done”—and leave somebody else to do it. Then we are deluged with “schemes” for dealing with the unemployed problem, and its essential simplicity is hidden under a cloud of ineffective proposals.

A well-meaning Lord Mayor starts an Unemployed Relief Fund, and, by general confession, does more harm than good. Soup Kitchens are set up. A Liberal Prime Minister (Rosebery) simply hands the unemployed crowd over to the Salvation Army. His Tory successor (Balfour), who had already destroyed the School Boards because there were “too many local authorities,” promptly invents a new set of local authorities, called Distress Committees, which are to find or invent work for the unemployed. Another Liberal Premier (Asquith) sets up Labour Exchanges, which cannot find jobs for the unemployed, who are out of work simply because a sufficient number of jobs are not on offer. Lloyd George imports an Insurance Scheme from Germany, and supplements this by a system of undisguised doles; but these measures can no more prevent unemployment than the payment of a fire-insurance premium prevents fires, or than a “death benefit” or a post-mortem “friendly lead” prevents death. Schemes for the universal working of short time merely dilute unemployment, and spread it over the whole industrial area. “Relief works,” sometimes after the fashion of “digging a hole and filling it up again,” involve nothing more helpful than a sheer waste of public money and the, humiliation of the badly paid unfortunates who work on them, The transfer of urban out-of-works to farm colonies, perhaps after training, sounds less hopeless, but at best could only help a selected few at a heavy cost. It is now suggested that “full and adequate maintenance” should be provided for the unemployed “by the industry,” or, as the Labour Party prefer, “by the State.” And so on, and so on. As with the Housing Question, and most other social questions, Governments and Parties are willing to try all the partial, ineffective, costly palliatives. The only thing they seem resolved not to do is to seek for the root of the trouble, and deal with that.

I am not concerned just now to discuss whether all or any of these schemes are temporarily necessary or useful in the actual presence of widespread and acute distress arising from unemployment. What I do want to point out is that they give us no help whatever in our search for a cure for unemployment. They simply take unemployment for granted as an inevitable social evil, just as a Fire Insurance Company takes for granted the outbreak of a certain (or uncertain) number of fires; and, just as the Company helps us a little over our losses and difficulties if one of the fires happens to us, so they help the worker a little over his term of unemployment, when it comes. Of some of the schemes, it is impossible to say that, on the whole and in the long run. They do even as much as that. For, if “relief works” are started, at the cost of the rates and taxes, for the mere purpose of “making work for the unemployed,” the imposition of additional burdens. mainly falling upon industry, at a time of acute industrial depression, simply retards the return to normal conditions. The agony of the unemployed is prolonged, while the community is none the better, and perhaps much the poorer, for the relief works. The Labour Party sees this clearly, and insists that “where work is provided by public effort for the unemployed, such work should be of a socially productive character.”[6] They offer the suggestion, among others, that the Government should undertake road making and repair, afforestation, foreshore reclamation, a great housing programme, improvement of rivers and canals, provision of new training colleges and new schools—elementary, technical, and secondary— and so on. “To enable local authorities to play their part in forwarding schemes to meet the present crisis “by spending public money, they “recommend the removal of the Treasury embargo on borrowing by local authorities,” although they admit, in the same paragraph, that “the local authorities with a low rateable value and in great financial difficulties are often those ill whose areas unemployment is most serious.” Therefore, “increased grants-in-aid are necessary,” as well as increased borrowing powers.[7] All this means an enormous expenditure of public money, at a time when industry is already crushed by the burden of rates and taxes.[8] The Labour Party, indeed, admits that it is calling for what it modestly describes as “considerable sums of money,” “a considerable immediate outlay,” but, apart from savings in Mesopotamia and Ireland (much to be desired), they have little that is helpful to suggest as to the way in which all this money is to be raised. The accumulated Unemployment Fund of £22,000,000, upon which they wished the Government to draw, has already disappeared.

Moreover, all these costly constructive schemes will involve a great demand for land, and we all know what happens to the price of land when public authorities are known to be bidders in the land market. Again, all these schemes, if well planned and properly carried out, will have the effect that all public improvements have: they will add another “unearned increment” to the value of land. Considered as measures for relief of unemployment they therefore come to this: that they will provide “socially productive work” for some of the unemployed by a method which increases the burden of rates and taxes upon industry, and raises the price of land against industry, and will do these things at a time when industry is at its greatest depression. The problem of unemployment can no more be solved by this method than the Irishman’s ladder could be lengthened by cutting a piece off the bottom and putting it on the top.

We must, therefore, look elsewhere for what we are in search of a radical and permanent cure for the disease of unemployment, rather than a new salve to alleviate its most distressing symptoms. Neither of the old Parties which have hitherto taken turns in governing us offers us a cure, nor does even the younger Labour Party, anxious to have its turn, although its interest in the question is very direct and obvious.

The Problem Stated.

What then is the problem we have to solve?

Wherever there are men and women willing to work, and able to work, who are out of work simply because they cannot find jobs, there we have the Unemployed Problem. There are not jobs enough to go round. The only effective cure for this state of things is to make the number of jobs at least equal to the number of would-be workers. There are only two conceivable ways of doing this: either by reducing the number of workers, or by increasing the number of available jobs. The first method proved quite effective, for a time, in the Middle Ages, when the Black Death (I34B-9) swept away a large proportion of the agricultural workers, at a time when agriculture was by far the greatest of all English industries. Involuntary unemployment ceased, and high wages for short hours marked the dawn of what has been called the Golden Age of English Agriculture.[9] “All at once, and as by a stroke, the labourer, both peasant and artisan, became the master of the situation in England. The change, “as Rogers says, … was as universal as it was sudden,” and this although the Black Death was immediately followed by an Act—the Statute of Labourers—for the regulation of wages (downwards!). In our own time, the Great War withdrew some millions of men and women from socially productive work for military purposes, and stimulated so enormously the production of war-like munitions that unemployment disappeared.[10] There were more jobs than workers, and we all know how wages went up.

As we none of us desire the return of either of the destroying angels, War or Pestilence, the only remedy open to us is the increase of the number of available jobs. I am sure that I shall carry you with me when I say that we too mean jobs of “socially productive ” work. Instead of setting the unemployed to dig a hole and fill it up again, we want the unemployed, if they dig holes, to do it for a definitely useful purpose, such as getting brick-clay or coal, or laying the foundation of a house; so that the community, as well as the unemployed may be the better for their labours. We can only find them jobs of useful, productive work by going to the fountain from which all such jobs flow—the great Storehouse and Workshop provided by Nature: the Land.

The Triple Alliance in Production.

1. Great classes of workers go direct to this storehouse for their employment. The farmer and his labourers, the market gardener, the allotment holder “produce” (i.e., “draw forth”) from the land food for man and beast—cereals, straw, grasses, roots, pulses, vegetables, fruits; some of them grow cotton or flax; or they breed and keep stock for the production of meat, milk, butter, cheese, eggs, hides, horn, wool, hair, bristles, feathers, etc. The miner and quarryman, also going directly to the land, “draw forth” coal, iron ore, peat, tin, lead, copper, spelter, gold, silver, granite, marble and building stones, chalk, flint, slate, gravel, sand, brick-clay, china-clay, fire-clay, salt, potash, nitrates, fuller’s earth, mineral oil, etc., etc. The “lumberman” goes upon the land, and cuts down natural or cultivated timber. The fisherman goes upon the sea, lake, or river—which economically are land—and literally “draws forth” fish for food.

It is impossible to enumerate the multitudinous good and useful things which these workers in the primary or extractive industries draw forth from the bountiful storehouse of Nature. These industries are vital and fundamental, for without the food which they produce the workers could not exist, and without the raw material which they extract the secondary industries could not be carried on. It is perfectly clear that if employment in these vital industries is to be increased. We must have access to more land, or make better use of the land to which we already have access, or both. There is no other way.

2. The food and raw materials, which are drawn from the land, are not, as a rule, adapted for immediate use. The corn which is the finished product of the farmer, becomes the raw material of the miller, who grinds it into flour and offals; and the flour, in its turn, is the raw material for the baker’s industry, which, with the aid of coal, makes it into bread. Iron ore, as it leaves the mine, is of little or no immediate use. But, with the aid of coal, the iron is separated from its impurities, and, again with the aid of coal, is melted and cast, or softened and hammered, into an infinite variety of useful articles, and may finally appear as boilers or steel rails, or iron girders, or stoves, saucepans, cutlery, nails, watch-springs, or needles, in the making of which multitudes of men have found useful employment. The hide of the farm beast is tanned into leather, and the leather is made into boots, gloves, harness, trunks, belting for machinery, covers for books, or wrist-straps for watches.

Thus the raw material drawn from land is changed in form, and worked up into new combinations, by the manufacturing industries. Large as these industries loom in the economic life of this country, they are, economically, only secondary. They depend for their very existence upon land-products, and for their prosperity upon a cheap and abundant supply of those products. There is a very true sense in which the workers on or in the land are the real employers, or work­givers, of the workers in manufacture. The food-producers find work for the millers, bakers, jam-makers, fish-curers, preparers and packers of tinned meats and fruits, thatchers, and many other trades; many of which need coal also. The growers of flax, cotton, and wool “make work” for linen and cotton operatives, weavers, wool-sorters, dyers, calico-printers, tailors, shirtmakers, and so on through the whole gamut of trades engaged in the supply of wearing apparel. The miners, quarrymen, and tree-fellers furnish the raw material without which the iron and steel industries, the building and furnishing trades, the shipbuilding yards, the construction of railways, the making of watches, and thousands of other trades, large and small, could not be carried on.

We cannot even fall back upon gas or electricity, for industrial power, in the absence of coal. Electricity, as now generated, is almost as truly distilled from coal as gas is.[11] We have had time enough, and reason enough, during a long stoppage of the coal-mines, to learn, if we did not realise it before, how dependent manufacturing industry is upon the produce of mineral lands. “We are members one of another,” even the most respectable and professional of us. If the primary workers ceased to produce the raw materials of the building trades, architects and quantity-surveyors would be out of work, no less than brickmakers, sawyers, bricklayers, plasterers, carpenters, tilers, and glaziers. The potter, the glass-worker, the paper-maker, the printer, the bookbinder, the brushmaker have nothing to work upon till the land-worker has produced the raw material for them. Employment in all the manufacturing industries depends, therefore, just as truly, and only a little less directly, upon access to land, than does the employment of the farmer or miner.

Nor is this all. For the manufacturing industries also depend very largely upon direct and immediate access to land for the sites of their factories, mills, warehouses, and offices; and part of their manufacturing is due to the demand of the land-workers (including the miners) for machinery, tools, buildings, clothes, furniture, etc.

3. The raw materials, and the partly or wholly manufactured goods, can only be moved by human agency, and this fact opens up a new vista of useful and productive, though again secondary, employment. Corn in the farmer’s stockyard and coal at the pit-head are not yet “produced” for me if I want toast for breakfast. Not only must the miller grind the corn, and the baker turn the flour into loaves, but in order to bring this about, the carter must take the grist to the mill, and the railwayman must bring the sacks of flour to the baker, and the baker’s boy must come with his hand-barrow or basket to my door; railwaymen must bring the coal to the London merchant, and the coal-porter with his wagon deliver it to the baker and to me. Thus we have the third great group of industries in this triple industrial alliance-those, viz., engaged in the distribution and exchange of the goods produced by the other two groups. By means of transport and “shopkeeping” the raw material passes from its first producer on the land to the manufacturer (or series of manufacturers), who work it up into desired forms, and so on to the places where, and the people by whom, it is wanted for consumption. So that all the persons who are engaged in the final stage of production—the distribution and exchange of the goods, produced directly or indirectly from land are no less concerned in the question of access to land than are those who till the fields or win the coal. Our sailors, railwaymen, all workers in road-transport (whether by horsed vehicles or by motor-lorries), dockers, lightermen, stablemen, warehousemen, packers, porters, shopkeepers, shop-assistants, would soon learn their dependence upon the land if the earth refused to give her increase, or if the landlords used their monopoly-power altogether to prevent access to land. All coal-porters, and most railwaymen and many sailors, must have learnt lately that their employment is, as it were, a by-product of the industry of the miners. But exactly the same is true of the black-coated workers—bankers, accountants, auctioneers, brokers, manufacturers’ agents, commercial travellers, merchants, clerks, book-keepers, house-agents, etc., etc., so long as they are dealing in real values of material things.

While the material to be transported or exchanged is thus derived, directly or indirectly, from land, the machinery of transport is also largely dependent upon coal. Even if we electrify our railways, electricity is, as it were, fluid coal. We replace the steam-engine by the internal-combustion engine driven by petrol. Petrol, like coal, comes from land. We try to dodge the landlord by generating electric current by water-power, and we find that all the river banks, and many of the rivers, are “private property,” and that our electric mains for the distribution of current must pass under or over land, and pay for the privilege, Fall back on horses, and you must get their feed from land.

And, once more, all the distributing industries require direct access to the land for their own immediate purposes: sites for railways, goods yards, receiving offices, canals, harbours, docks, warehouses, shops, garages, stables, etc.

All industries—extractive, manufacturing and distributive—need access to land for the housing of their workers.

The Real “Key Industry.”

Yet Sir Leo Chiozza Money[12] has been good enough to assure us that we “Single Taxers” “do, not understand the economic development of such a nation as this,” and that we “prate of land and landlords’ exactions in a country which, fortunately for itself, has long ceased to depend on land for its livelihood.” This may be true of the country of Letspretendia, in which Sir Leo appears to have studied what he calls his economics; its people may have ceased to be land animals, and have learned to live on statistics evolved out of their own inner consciousness. But the coal stoppage should, by now, have taught Sir Leo that the despised “Single Taxers” are right. For he has recently announced,[13] that cheap coal is the solution of our present difficulty in trade and industry; that “everything hangs upon the revival of cheap energy”; that coal is “the greatest national asset.” Has he forgotten how, at the Coal Commission a while ago, he heard Mr. Smillie “prate of land and landlords’ exactions” in connection with coal? How completely Mr. Smillie disagrees with his colleagues, Mr. Sidney Webb and Sir Leo, on that Commission is shown when he writes:—

I am convinced that the divorcing of the people from the land is the chief cause of our poverty, misery, excessive sickness and death rate …

If the Labour movement forgot everything for two years and concentrated on getting rid of the greatest burden of all—the land grabbers—we should have a land fit for heroes to live in and heroes fit to live in a free land.[14]

The fact is, of course, that all our food, clothing; houses, furniture, tools, machinery—all our necessaries, comforts, and luxuries—all the things we manufacture, for use at home or for export—come to us directly or indirectly from the land. “Land is the mother, and labour is the father, of all wealth”;[15] land is “the mother of all things.[16] Labour directly applied to Land is the true Key Industry, and all the infinitely various employments concerned in the production, distribution, and exchange of commodities are dependent, directly or indirectly, upon that fundamental industry, and could not exist without it. Idle men are the inevitable corollary of idle land. The old cry of “Back to the Land” came very near suggesting the cure for unemployment, but its advocates usually did not mean “land,” but only “agricultural land.” This is perhaps what Sir Leo had in mind when he wrote the nonsense I have just quoted. Of course, the cultivation of agricultural land is, as the Labour Party see, “one of the most vital branches of useful work,” which, they add, “seems, as far as we can see, to have been practically neglected.”[17] The full use of agricultural land would immediately open up abundant opportunities for socially productive work to multitudes of farmers, smallholders, market gardeners, fruit growers, allotment holders, agricultural labourers, and to all the village tradesmen who subserve the needs of the cultivators; and a large and well-employed population in the rural districts would not only produce more food for the industrial districts but also provide a steady home market for their productions, thus increasing employment in the manufacturing and transport industries. But civilised man demands many things besides food, and every material thing he needs can be got, as food is got, by labour from land. Unless we are to squat naked on the ground and eat our food raw in the open air, we must have access to the land which yields coal and the raw materials for buildings, furniture and clothes.

One of the reasons why I have emphasised the importance of the coal stoppage is, that I wished to make it quite clear that the “land” we “prate of” is not exclusively made up of cornfields and cabbage patches, important as they are. We want access to the whole of Nature’s storehouses. Then we shall be able to supply all our natural human needs, and, in doing so, to place within the reach of every man who is willing to work the opportunity of satisfying his wants with the produce of his own industry. Then, as a tent-maker of old said, if any man isn’t willing to work, neither let him eat.[18] The wilfully idle and the unwillingly unemployed need no longer disgrace our civilisation. For there is practically no limit to the wealth we can draw from Nature’s storehouse, if we can only get full and free access to it; no known limit to the amount of useful employment which may be spent upon land and its products, when “landlords’ exactions” no longer block the way to the “field of all labour and the source of all wealth.”

 An Object Lesson­

Let us once more make sure of our ground.

I have already hinted at the lesson to be drawn from the temporary disuse of coal-bearing lands, and I again take a non-agricultural illustration.

About twenty years ago, a large number of men were out of work in a Welsh valley. The cause was, in form, a labour dispute. In essence, it was the denial, by the late Lord Penrhyn, to a large number of workers, skilled and unskilled, of the right of access on endurable terms to land—to the slate quarry of which he claimed to be the owner, and in which these men had been wont to exercise their industry. The number and character of the men affected, and the striking personality of Lord Penrhyn, made an extraordinary impression on the public mind, and concentrated a painful attention on Bethesda. But not many people realised that the crowd of men in that mountain village—able and willing to work, and yet threatened with starvation for lack of work—formed only a part of the evil for which the stoppage was responsible.

The idleness of the quarrymen meant the unemployment of railway­men on the line which exists mainly to carry slates from Bethesda to Port Penrhyn; of clerks at the port, who should have been invoicing the slates; of sailors on the laid-up ships, that should have had the slates for their cargoes. Here and there, a job, for which these cargoes were destined, is held up, because Penrhyn slates have been specified, and cannotbehad. The Bethesda shopkeepers, who look to live by supplying the quarrymen with goods, are more or less “out of work”; their customers have little or no money. Orders to wholesale houses necessarily fall off; the wholesalers, in their turn, lessen their demands upon manufacturers and importers. Here and there, often in places far remote from Bethesda, clerks and warehousemen, bootmakers and weavers, and so on; here a man, and there a man, in all sorts of businesses, productive and distributive, are dispensed with, owing, they are told, to a “falling off of trade.” Very few of the victims understand that the “falling off” is due to the fact that two thousand or more land-workers-their real employers—are idle at Bethesda. It is obviously impossible to work out all the consequences of the trouble at the quarry. I myself heard of a clerk from Port Penrhyn seeking a post in London, and of a dozen London house-decorators who lost a good job in North Wales, for no other reason than that the quarrymen were denied access to a small patch of slate­bearing land.

Now let us, in imagination, collect all these out-of-works into one place. We have a large, typical, and perfectly genuine unemployed demonstration—men of all sorts: quarrymen, clerks, railway workers, warehousemen, porters, shop-assistants, sailors, dock labourers, builders, etc., skilled and unskilled. Of course, “something must be done!”

Apply to this problem the many “schemes” put forward by Mr. Sidney Webb for the benefit of the unemployed. One by one they are seen to be complicated, costly, unnecessary and futile (except so far as they prevent unemployment among bureaucrats). None of them go to the root of the matter. For all these men are out of work simply because a small area of land in Carnarvonshire is not being put to full use. Re-open this land to labour, and the unemployed will set each other to work. The quarrymen, back at the face of the slate rock, will soon “make work” for the railwaymen, dockers, sailors, clerks, builders; and, pending their wages at the village shops, will set up a demand for goods which means better employment in many manufacturing and distributing industries.

—And its Moral.

We need not go beyond this Bethesda story for a hint as to the way in which this can be brought about. During the struggle, Lord Penrhyn applied for and obtained a large reduction of his rates on the ground that the earnings of his quarry had been reduced in consequence of the dispute. The rateable value was reduced from £24,800 (based upon a production of 96,000 tons at a “rateable value” of 5s. 2d. per ton) to £10,514 (on production of 40,700 tons). This concession obviously strengthened the hands of his lordship by lessening his outgoings, and threw an increased burden upon the other ratepayers, a large number of whom were directly or indirectly suffering through the stoppage; and this was done at the very time when his lordship, by creating destitution, was threatening the local rates with increased burdens. The scale was weighted both in favour of his lordship and against the quarrymen, and the shopkeepers, who were helping the quarrymen in  their fight with starvation by giving them some credit.

Suppose that the Assessment Committee had held and exercised the power to refuse him a reduction, and had instead—looking only to the “communal value” of the quarry—insisted on levying the rates on its full value, considered as an opportunity for the employment of labour and the satisfying of the public need for slates. The pressure of the rates would soon have forced open the door which the lord had closed against the quarrymen. In other words, the unemployed problem which had its centre at Bethesda would have been solved by the taxation of land values.

Let it not be said that the obstinate and wealthy Lord Penrhyn would have stood out even against such taxation. Even if he did, he would simply have lost his quarrymen. For the rate would fall not only on the value of the Penrhyn quarry-land, but also on the undeveloped slate-lands in the neighbourhood. The quarrymen would then have had an alternative to working for Lord Penrhyn, and he would only get them back by offering better wages than could be had in the competing quarries newly opened under the stimulus of the land value rate and urgently seeking skilled workers.

If I remember rightly, it was found, when Lord Penrhyn died, not very long after the dispute, that he was not nearly as rich as he was reputed to be. He was certainly not so rich as the enormously wealthy Hudson’s Bay Company, which surrendered, as its President, Sir Robert Kindersley, publicly confessed not long ago,[19] to the rating of land values in Canada, and not only began to let its idle farm lands, and to offer its “town site holdings at reasonable prices,” but also made a “new departure” by itself undertaking

“the development of our own land … a practice to which we shall have to resort increasingly in the future … Your directors are now conidering how this development can best be carried out on a large scale.”

An instalment of the taxation of land values, with the partial or complete exemption of improvements from rating, is thus compelling this wealthy corporation to “develop” its idle lands in town and country, or to let them go at reduced prices to those who will develop them. Now, the only way of developing land is to employ labour upon it. Thus the rating of land values and its natural corollary, the unrating of improvements, means more employment for agriculturists and builders; more food and more houses.

The same policy was adopted in New South Wales, According to the testimony of ninety mayors and aldermen of Sydney suburban municipalities, after actual experience of the new method of rating.

“It has stimulated the building trade, employment is more constant, and business generally is on a much sounder footing. It has induced a number of ratepayers to build, or to dispose of land which they are not willing or able to use themselves, and has promoted the sub-division of land hitherto withheld from use for speculative purposes . … It specially benefits those ratepayers whose use of land is most effective and creditable to the municipality, while it has put effective pressure upon a number of owners of idle or partly used land to change their tactics . … It is but fair to admit that rating on unimproved values is working as well as its advocates claimed that it would before it was adopted.”[20]

Or, again, consider the effects of a small tax on land values in New Zealand, as summarised for the British Government from the returns of a large number of local authorities:—

The effect on urban and suburban land has been very marked. It has compelled owners of these to build, or to sell to those who would; it has thus caused a great impetus to the building trade. The tendency of this system is not to increase rent, but, on the contrary, to bring into beneficial occupation land not put to its best use, and so reduce rent … The form of speculation in land unused and held for a prospective increment is rarely met with in recent years.[21]

Apply this reform to the land of the home country, Instead of reducing the rates on agricultural land converted to fox coverts or turned into deer forests,[22] or “laid down to grass,” and of exempting unused agricultural land from rating, let us rate all agricultural and on its full agricultural value, and exempt farm buildings and improvements from rating. We found during the War that the bringing into use of but a small part of our unused vacant land—often very unpromising land at that—by cultivators who were often quite unskilled, produced enormous crops of potatoes and other vegetables, gave part-time employment to many thousands, and materially helped to save the nation from starvation during the U-boat blockade.

Apply the reform to “the (nearly) thirteen million acres of rough grazing land which potentially represent the wealth of a new nation,” of which Professor Long[23] tells us that it is “capable of considerable improvement,” though (or because) probably” 90 per cent. of it has received no attention at the hands of man.” What would be the effect upon unemployment in the rural districts if we adopted the policy which would begin to bring all agricultural land into use, and to encourage the use of it by exempting agricultural improvements from rating? If you care to know what could be done with British land, if the landlord and the rate-collector were no longer preventing it from being put to its best use, read what that great Russian reformer and scientist, the late Peter Kropotkin, has told us of “the Possibilities of Agriculture.”[24] He opens up an astonishing vista of socially productive employment upon “the land.” I am sorry that I cannot now quote at length from this fascinating and authoritative book. It is emphatically a book to be read.

The argument already advanced in the case of Penrhyrr’s slate quarries applies equally to the case of coal lands and other mineral deposits. The Royal Commission on Coal Supply[25] estimate the known available coal resources of this country, including only the coal which lies within 4,000ft. of the surface, at 136,000,000,000 tons, and this estimate is being constantly increased by discoveries due to new borings, sinkings, and workings, and more accurate knowledge of the coal seams.

Sir Richard Redmayne, H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines, gave evidence as to the ways in which landlords obstructed the getting of the coal. What would be the effect upon the economic position of the miners, upon the welfare of the enormous industries that depend upon coal and metals, if all these mineral lands were taxed and rated on their mineral value?

Turn to Mr. Outhwaite’s Return of 1913.[26] You will find in practically every municipal area in England[27] a large proportion of land which is “rated as agricultural” on a derisive assessment: land which should be used as sites for the houses which are everywhere so urgently needed, or for market gardens to supply the markets of the towns as the maraichers of the Parisian suburbs supply Paris. What would be the effect upon employment, upon food prices, upon the burden of the rates in these towns, if these “agricultural” lands were assessed at the values which their owners demand when a builder or a market gardener wants to use them?

Rate the unused building land, and the land that yields building materials on its true value, and thus set land free as sites for houses and as sources of the wherewithal to build them. They will be built fast enough. The scandal of the co-existence of builders out of work and of slum unfit for habitation need not long survive. Houses would multiply and rents diminish, even if Dr. Addison’s successor made no further Housing grants and issued no more Orders and Regulations.

With the primary industries and the building trades thus flourishing, the supposed necessity for “finding work” for the unemployed by Government action, or for calling upon the Government, as the Labour Party does with all the emphasis of black type, to “take drastic steps to compel the production of essential raw materials”[28] would disappear. Food and raw materials, produced in abundance, and consequently becoming cheaper, would keep all the manufacturing and distributing industries in full employment, and at the same time raise the purchasing power of wages. Steady employment and regular wages would foster an effective demand in the Home Market for all kinds of goods and stimulate every useful kind of production.[29]

This is a consideration of very high importance in view of the fact that we have undoubtedly lost—”it may be for years and it may be for ever “—a good deal of the foreign trade upon which we could formerly rely.

I respectfully suggest to the Labour Party that they are spending most of their time “barking up the wrong tree.” Even with their eyes fixed on unemployment, they have allowed themselves to forget that land is “the field of all labour and the source of all wealth.” They allow themselves to be persuaded that Government control and Government grants can solve the unemployed problem, without even a suggestion that the Government should break the control of the monopoly which dis-employs people by denying or hindering access to land. Instead of bringing in a Bill to enact that “it shall be the duty of the Minister of Labour to use the powers conferred upon him by Parliament in such manner as he may think expedient for the purpose of preventing as far as may be possible the occurrence of unemployment,”[30] they should rather ask the electors to compel the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Ministry of Health to prepare Bills for the taxation and rating of land values, and to use the machinery of taxation in such a way as to check and finally abolish, the land monopoly which is causing unemployment over the whole industrial field. Such measures would go to the economic root of the whole trouble, and would incidentally supply the means of relieving industry from much of the heavy taxation which, by general admission, is one of the causes of the present “depression of trade.”[31]

Almost the only reference which Mr. Sidney Webb permits the Labour Party to make to the Land Question is a short paragraph on “Land Cultivation,”[32] proposing to place agriculture “upon a sound permanent basis “by the resumption of the war-time methods of bureaucratic control. Have they already forgotten that it was not the well-meant but mischievous interferences of a “Controller.” but the spade-work of the allotment holder, that relieved the potato famine during the War; and that this became possible only when the Government, by an Order in Council, put some small limit to the landlord’s power to withhold the land from use? What the Order of Council did, temporarily, for some land, and for a special use of that land, can be done permanently, for all land and for all purposes of land-using, by the taxation and rating of land values.

Foreign Policy and British Unemployment.

But is not the present unemployment due, directly and indirectly, to the War?

“Before the War,” says the Labour Party, “periods of trade depression recurred with a certain regularity … Periods of great activity were followed by periods of economic stagnation and unemployment”[33] even when Europe was nominally at Peace, and the exchange were normal. The present unemployment cannot, therefore, be placed wholly to the discredit of the War. But the War and the conditions of “Peace” which followed have undoubtedly aggravated its severity, and the Labour Party rightly claim them as “important contributory causes”[34] of the present distress. We shall all, I am sure, agree with the Party’s insistent demand for a real Peace in Europe, and honour them for the zeal and courage with which, in Parliament and the country, in season and out of season, they have pressed that demand.

But, after all, the late War, like nearly all the wars in history (except, perhaps, the Wars of Religion), and the international troubles that have followed it, are, like our industrial troubles at home, only so many phases of the Land Question: attempts at land-grabbing on an international scale. Peace in Europe has never been safe since the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871. It has been frequently threatened because the Czars had their eyes on Constantinople. The treacherous seizure of Silesia by Frederick the Great, and the Partition of Poland, in the eighteenth century are still bearing their bitter fruits in the twentieth. Upper Silesia, the present bone of contention between Germany and Poland, is a veritable treasure-house of mineral wealth, and the recent hotly contested plebiscite there turned very largely on the question whether German law or Polish law would give its inhabitants the better right of access to land.[35] We are spending large sums on military adventures in Mesopotamia because its lands yield oil, and France is coveting the Ruhr district because of its coal-fields. The Revolution in Russia, and, nearer home, the civil war in Ireland, have their historical roots deep down in the land question; and Lenin is said to have frankly abandoned his communistic programme for agricultural Russia, and to be adopting a policy which looks like a somewhat clumsy move in the direction of taxation of land values.[36] We may go into a South African War protesting that “we seek no territory,” but we annex the Transvaal with its gold-fields all the same. European colonies all over the world have been acquired by the methods of the Enclosure Acts and the Sutherland clearances, applied to large areas, and carried out, in many cases, by brute force.

Just as land in England varies in situation, climate, and productiveness, so does land all over the world. Almost every country can produce something which other countries cannot produce at all, or cannot produce so cheaply or so abundantly. We consume large quantities of tea, coffee, cocoa, rice, tropical nuts, oil-seeds, and fruits, cotton and other commodities which, for reasons of climate, cannot be produced here at all. We produce hardly any of the sugar, wine, silk, wool, tobacco which we use; only a small proportion of our corn, meat, hides, limber, wood-pulp, gold, silver, etc. We have largely lived in the past by working up raw materials, much of which we get from other lands, into manufactured goods, which we export sometimes to the very countries from which the raw materials came.

If I keep pigs and my neighbour grows vegetables, the neighbourly thing to do is to exchange some of my produce for some of his. We are both the better for this neighbourly exchange, for we both have bacon and vegetables for dinner. Moreover, the manure from my pigsties can be used to increase the yield of his garden, while the waste cabbage-leaves and potato-peelings can help to feed my pigs. The true remedy for War and its after-effects is just the fostering of international neighbourliness; the friendly and unfettered exchange of products between nation and nation; in a word, absolute Free Trade.

We can equalise the natural inequalities of English land, and the unequal needs of English citizens for direct access to land, by taxing land values into the national and municipal exchequers. We cannot, of course, apply this method internationally; but we can make a long approach to the same goal by setting up international freedom of exchange. Unfortunately, this is just what the nations of Europe seem least inclined to do, and, still more unfortunately for us, our own Government, in spite of all Mr. Lloyd George’s Free Trade speeches in his Radical days, is among the most active builders of high garden-walls to prevent the nation which grows vegetables from exchanging its produce with the nation that keeps pigs. If the victorious Allies, instead of setting up new Custom Houses in the occupied German provinces, had insisted upon the abolition of Custom Houses all round; if they had started to trade freely with Russia instead of supporting Czarist adventurers in civil war; they would have done far more to draw the teeth of Bolshevism, and to prevent future wars and present unemployment, than by imposing a colossal tribute on Germany, or even than by compelling her disarmament. For we should have been getting raw materials which we badly need, and we should have found a profitable outlet for our coal and manufactures, desperately needed by many of our Continental neighbours; and the nations would already be forgetting mutual hatreds in the exchange of friendly services and useful commodities. High prices would be coming down more rapidly, and exchanges would be returning towards normal. We should be freed from the socially unproductive, and indeed actively mischievous, expenditure of money and labour upon the prevention of the trade which would have helped economic reconstruction all round.

There is no real Peace in Europe; and there cannot be while we persist in maintaining an economic War after the War of Arms is (at least nominally) at an end. The “block-houses” manned by Custom House officers, armed with official forms and destructive weapons of taxation, are continuing in another form the blockading work of the British Navy against Germany and of the German U-boats against Britain, and with exactly the same sort of economic results. We all saw and felt the direful effects of the complete “Protection” afforded to many industries by the absolute exclusion of competing products during the War. Yet we are so little taught by experience that we are actively concocting new measures of partial blockade against ourselves, and thus virtually denying our elves access to the land and land-products of other countries.

By all means, then, let us demand Free Trade—real and complete Free Trade—as a remedy for unemployment. But, as I tried to show at Antwerp, eleven years ago,[37] “Trade” or Exchange is only one stage in the process of production from land and the abolition of all taxation, whether “Protective” or “for revenue only,” upon industry and its products is an integral part of the liberating policy usually known as the Taxation of Land Values.

Our American co-workers once adopted this motto:—


The earlier Russian Revolutionists, who were too sick of the dictatorship of the Czar to want any other dictatorship, inscribed on their banners the pregnant phrase:—


Under some such banners must we go out to the fight for the Abolition of Unemployment.

A Paper read to the Central Council of the English League for the Taxation of Land Values, by FREDK. VERINDER, General Secretary, on July 11th, 1921.


[1] In “Land, Labour and Taxation after the War,” Land Values, December, 1915. Two editions in pamphlet form are now completely exhausted.
[2] Church Reformer, December, 1884.
[3] Labour and Life of the People. I. 152. The words in italics were not in the paper as originally read to the Royal Statistical Society (see the Society’s Journal, June, 1888), and their subsequent insertion is worth noting.
[4] It is implicit in his statement that “the expropriation of the mass of the people from the soil forms the basis of the capitalist mode of production.” (Capital, I. 793). But see the whole chapter.
[5] Booth, I. 152.
[6] “Unemployment: A Labour Policy.” Report of Joint Committee, Trade Union Congress and Labour Party. January, 1921. (Mr. Sidney Webb was chairman, and evidently drafted the Report.)
[7] Ibid., pp. 26, 27.
[8] See footnote page 13.
[9] Thorold Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages (ch. viii.]
[10] It should be carefully noted, in passing, that the worker in the Golden Age still had a large opportunity of access to land, in the as yet unenclosed commons; and that the demand for munitions factories, aerodromes, camps, barracks, allotments, etc., during the recent War, meant a largely increased use of land.
[11] The making of gas yields as by-products a multitude of other things, as widely different as tar, dyes, disinfectants, fertilisers, and explosives; and this sets another chain of industries going.
[12] Everyman, October 13th, 1913.
[13] Labour Leader, June 6th, 1921.
[14] Land and Liberty, June, 1921 (p. 95).
[15] Sir William Petty.
[16] Ecclesiasticus xl. I.
[17] Report. p. 27.
[18] 2 Thess. iii.
[19] Land and Liberty, September, 1920, p. 470.
[20] See the very valuable pamphlet by A. W. Madsen, B.Sc., On Land Value Rating, IS.
[21] Papers relating to the Taxation of Land (CU. 4750).
[22] Deer forests and lauds exclusively devoted to sport in Scotland, 3,599,774 acres. (Parliamentary Paper, 538 of 1913.)
[23] Making the Most of the Land, pp. ix., 197, 272.
[24] Fields, Factories, and Workshops (new, revised, and enlarged edition), 2S. (ch. III-V.)
[25] Final Report (Cd. 2353). See Land and Liberty, June, 1921, p. 97.
[26] White Paper, Urban Districts (Areas and Rates). No. 119 of 1913.
[27] And in Scotland. White Paper, No. 144 of 1913. (Mr. Price.)
[28] Report, p. 25.
[29] Some near relatives of mine are” watch repairers to the trade.” It would not be easy to convince them that their work has nothing to do with the land question. For they were practically unemployed for weeks because certain land workers were not producing coal, and one of the results was that many people could not afford to have their watches mended. They did not ask Mr. Sidney Webb to devise a scheme for making work for watchmakers. What they wanted was that the coal-bearing lands should be brought into use again.
[30] The Labour Party’s” Prevention of Unemployment Bill.” (Report, p. 36.)
[31] It is obvious that the imposition of  contributions upon employers and workers at the present time (for the maintenance of the unemployed) would tend to intensify the present situation. The wage canters can ill afford any additional burden; indeed they need the means to meet the cost of the necessities of life. To throw any additional charge upon employers would tend further to restrict employment and to raise prices.” (Report, p. 19.) But to throw upon the public funds the very heavy cost of the Labour Party’s schemes would have precisely and necessarily, the effect of throwing “additional charges,” in rates and taxes, upon both employers and workers.
[32] Report, p. 25
[33] Report, p. 5.
[34] Report, p. 17.
[35] A. Damaschke in Bodenreform, April 5th, 1921; [Jahrbuch der Bodenreform, 1921. p. 125 .
[36] Bodenreform, June 5th, 1921.
[37] Free Trade and Land Values. Paper read before the International Free Trade Congress, August, 1910.