The unearned Increment
by William Harbutt Dawson
Of making of books on agrarian questions there is no end. As yet, however, it cannot be said that the phase of land-law reform treated of in these pages has received the attention it deserves. “Unearned increment” is an expression which has long figured more or less prominently in the works of Liberal and Socialistic economists, both English and Continental, but it has not yet become a commonplace of polemic. If the present inquiry into the meaning and bearings of this still dignified phrase should take away something of its obscurity for the popular mind, a good purpose will certainly have been served.
It was the complaint of the elder Pliny that great estates were ruining Italy. We have in the United Kingdom a multitude of plethoric domains, and the belief is rapidly growing that their existence is not an unmixed blessing. Yet while we may run no risk, or little, of being ruined by the magnitude of individual estates, very great danger may be apprehended from the magnitude of land-values in this country, so long as, to use the words of John Stuart Mill, “an accession of wealth created by circumstances” is allowed to “become an unearned appendage to the riches of a particular class.”
Although writing from the English standpoint, I have not hesitated to draw illustrations of the principles advanced from various countries, particularly the United States and Germany; nor have I scrupled to borrow from abroad the testimony of political economists and social reformers favourable to those principles. The unearned increment question is, in the truest sense of the word, a social question, and if the theories advocated and the proposals recommended in these pages are vindicable as applied to one country, they may claim general validity. In endeavouring to establish the position taken up, I have sought to concentrate attention upon great principles, and in the inevitable references to persons, writing without fear or favour, I have nought extenuated while setting down nought in malice.
The annotations, which might without explanation be thought superabundant, form in reality an integral part of the plan of the work. Many facts and figures are contained therein which, though they could not properly be embodied in the text, will be found to throw important light upon the path of the uninitiated reader.
W. H. D