Take it from any aspect you
please, take it on its political side (and surely that is a side that we
ought to consider clearly and plainly), while we boast of our democratic
republicanism, democratic republicanism is passing away. I need not say that
to you men of San Francisco—San Francisco ruled by a boss; to you men of California,
where you send to the Senate the citizen who dominates the State as no duke
could rule. Look at the corruption that is tearing the heart out of our institutions;
where does it come from? Whence this demoralisation? Largely from our system
of taxation. What does our present system of taxation do? Why, it is a tax
upon conscience; a tax upon truth; a tax upon respect for law. It offers
a premium for lying and perjury and evasion. It fosters and stimulates bribery
Go over to Europe; travel around for a while
among the effete monarchies of the old world, and what you see will make
you appreciate democracy. Then come home. At length you take a pilot. There
is the low-lying land upon the horizon—the land of the free and the home
of the brave—and if you are entering the port of New York, as most Americans
do, finally you will see that great statue, presented by a citizen of the
French republic—the statue of Liberty holding aloft a light that talks to
Just as you get to see that statue clearly,
Liberty enlightening the world, you will be called down by a Customhouse
officer to form in line, men and women, and to call on God Almighty, maker
of heaven and earth, to bear witness that you have nothing dutiable in your
trunks or in your carpet sacks, or rolled up in your shawl straps; and you
take that oath. The United States of America compels you to. But the United
States of America don't leave you there. The very next thing, another official
steps up to demand your keys and to open your box or package and to look
through it for things dutiable, unless, as may be, his eyes are stopped
by a greenback. Well, now, everyone who has made that visit does know that
most passengers have things dutiable; and I notice that the protectionists
have them fully as often as the free traders. I have never yet seen a consistent
protectionist. There may he protectionists who would not smuggle when they
get a chance, but I think they must be very, very few.
Go right through the daily stream—from the
very institution of law down to the very lobby that gathers at Washington
when it is proposed to repeal a tax, bullying, bragging, stealing to keep
that particular tax on the American people, so patriotic are they; very
much interested in protecting the poor working man.
See the private interests that are enlisted in the merely petty
evasions of law that go on by passengers; see the gigantic smuggling, the
under-valuation frauds of all kinds; the private interests that are enlisted
in class; that enter the primaries; that surround our national legislature
with lobbyists that in every presidential election put their millions into
the corruption fund. Does not the whole system reek with fraud and corruption?
Is it not a discrimination against honesty, against conscience, a premium
on evasion and fraud?
Come into our States and look at their taxes,
or look, if you please, by the way, on the internal revenue. You remember
how, when it was proposed to abolish that stamp tax on matches that was
in force during the war, how the match combination fought hard and fought
long against the repeal of that tax. You remember how the whisky ring spent
its money to prevent the reduction of the whisky tax; how today it stands
ready to spend money to keep up the present tax.
Go then into our States; take our system of
direct taxation. What do you find? We pretend to tax all property; many
of our taxes are especially framed to get at rich men; what is the result?
Why, all over the United States the very rich men simply walk from under
those taxes. All over the United States the attempt to tax men upon their
wealth is a farce and a fraud. If there were no other reason, this would
be a sufficient reason why all such taxes should be abolished. In their
very nature they permit evasion, law breaking, perjury, bribery, and corruption.
But the tax on land values, it has at least this advantage:
land cannot be hid; it cannot be carried off; it always remains, so to speak,
out of doors. If you don't see the land you know that it is there; and
of all values the value which attaches to land is the most definite, the
most easily ascertained. Why, I may go into San Francisco, into Denver,
into New York, into Boston, into any city where I am totally unacquainted,
and if one offers to sell me a lot, I can go to any real-estate dealer and
say: »Here is a lot of such a frontage and such a depth, and on such
a street; what is it worth?« He will tell me closely. How can he tell
me the value of the house that is upon it? Not without a close examination;
still less, how can anyone tell me, without the examination of experts, what
is the value of the things contained in that house, if it be a large and fine
house? And, still less, how can anyone tell me the value of the various things
that the man who lives in that house may own? But land—there it is. You can
put up a simple little sign on every lot, or upon every piece of agricultural
land, saying that this tract is of such a frontage and of such a depth, having
such an area, and it belongs to such a person, and is assessed at so much,
and you have published information checking the assessment; you have the
assessment on a value that can be ascertained more definitely, more certainly
than any other value.
Substitute the tax on land values for all the
many taxes that we now impose. See the gain in morals; see the gain in economy!
With what a horde of tax-gathering and tax assessing officials could we
dispense; what swearing and examination and nosing around to find out what
men have or what they are worth!
Now take the matter of justice. We Single Tax men are not deniers
of the rights of property; but, on the contrary, we are the upholders and
defenders of the rights of property. We assert the sacred right of property;
that there is a right of property, which comes from no human law, which
antedates all human enactments. That is a clear genesis. That which a man
produces, that which by his exertion he brings from the reservoir of nature
and adapts to forms suited to gratify the wants of man—that is his; his
as against all the world.
If I, by my labour, catch a fish, that fish
is and ought to be mine; if I make a machine, that machine belongs to me;
that is the sacred right of property. There is a clear title from the producer,
resting upon the right of the individual to himself, to the use of his
own powers, to the enjoyment of the results of his exertion; the right
that he may give, that he may sell, that he may bequeath.
What do we do when we tax a building? When
a man puts up a building by his own exertion, or it comes to him through
the transfer of the right that others have to their exertion, down comes
the community and says, virtually, you must give us a portion of that building.
For where a man honestly earns and accumulates wealth, down come the tax-gatherers
and demand every year a portion of those earnings. Now, is it not as much
an impairment of the right of property to take a lamb as to take a sheep?
To take 5% or 20%, as to take 100%? We should leave the whole of the value
produced by individual exertion to the individual. We should respect the
rights of property not to any limited extent, but fully. We should leave
to him who produces wealth, to him to whom the title of the producer passed,
all that wealth. No matter what be its form, it belongs to the individual.
We should take for the uses of the community the value of land for the same
reason. It belongs to the community because the growth of the community
What is the reason that land in San Francisco
today is worth so much more than it was in 1860 or 1850? Why is it that
barren sand, then worth nothing, has now become so enormously valuable? On
account of what the owners have done? No. It is because of the growth of the
whole people. It is because San Francisco is a larger city; it is because
you all are here. Every child that is born; every family that comes and settles;
every man that does anything to improve the city, adds to the value of land.
It is a value that springs from the growth of the community. Therefore, for
the very same reason of justice, the very same respect for the rights of property
which induces us to leave to the individual all that individual effort produces,
we should take for the community that value which arises by the growth and
improvement of the community.
What would be the direct result? Take this
city, this State or the whole country; abolish all taxes on the production
of wealth; let every man be free to plough, to sow, to build, in any way
add to the common stock without being fined one penny. Say to every man who
would improve, who would in any way add to the production of wealth: Go ahead,
go ahead; produce, accumulate all you please; add to the common stock in any
way you choose; you shall have it all; we shall not fine or tax you one penny.
What would be the result of abolishing all these taxes that now depress industry;
that now fall on labour; that now lessen the profits of those who are adding
to the general wealth? Evidently to stimulate production; to increase wealth;
to bring new life into every vocation of industry.
On the other side what would be the effect when abolishing
all these taxes that now fall on labour or the products of labour, if we
were to resort for public revenue to a tax upon land values; a tax that would
fall on the owner of a vacant lot just as heavily as upon the man who has
improved a lot by putting up a house; that would fall on the speculator who
is holding 160 acres of agricultural land idle, waiting for a tenant or
a purchaser, as heavily as it would fall upon the farmer who had made the
160 acres bloom? Why, the result would be everywhere that the dog in the
manger would he checked; for the result everywhere would he that the men
who are holding natural opportunities, not for use but simply for profit,
by demanding a price of those who must use them, would have either to use
their land or give way to somebody who would.
Everywhere from the Atlantic to the Pacific,
from the lakes to the gulf, opportunities would be opened to labour; there
would come into the labour market that demand for the products of labour
that never can be satisfied—the demands of labour itself. We should cease
to hear of the labour question. The notion of a man ready to work, anxious
to work, and yet not able to find work, would be forgotten, would be a story
of the misty past.
Why, look at it here today, in this new country,
where there are as yet only 65 millions of us scattered over a territory
that in the present stage of the arts is sufficient to support in comfort
a thousand millions; yet we are actually thinking and talking as if there
were too many people in the country.
We want more wealth. Why don't we get it? Is any factor of
production short? What are the factors of production? Labour, capital, and
land; but to put them in the order of their importance: land, labour, capital.
We want more wealth; what is the difficulty? Is it in labour; is there
not enough labour? No. From all parts of the United States we hear of what
seems like a surplus of labour. We have actually got to thinking that the
man who gives another employment is giving him a boon. Is there any scarcity
of capital? Why, so abundant is capital today that United States bonds,
bought at the current rate, will only yield a fraction over 2% per annum.
So abundant is capital that there can be no doubt that a government loan
could be floated today at 2% and little doubt but that it would soon command
a premium. So abundant is capital that all over the country it is pressing
for remunerative employment.
If the limitation is not in labour and not
in capital, it must be in land. But there is no scarcity of land from the
Atlantic to the Pacific, for there you will find unused or only half-used
land. Aye, even where population is densest. Have you not land enough in
San Francisco? Go to that great city of New York, where people are crowded
together so closely, the great majority of them, that physical health and
moral health are in many cases alike impossible. Where, in spite of the fact
that the rich men of the whole country gravitate there, only four per cent
of the families live in separate houses of their own, and sixty-five per
cent of the families are crowded two or more to the single floor—crowded together
layer on layer, in many places, like sardines in a box. Yet, why are there
not more houses there? Not because there is not enough capital to build more
houses, and yet not because there is not land enough on which to build more
Today one half of the area of New York City
is unbuilt upon—is absolutely unused. When there is such a pressure, why
don't people go to these vacant lots and build there? Because though unused,
the land is owned; because, speculating upon the future growth of the city,
the owners of those vacant lots demand thousands of dollars before they
will permit anyone to put a house upon them.
What you see in New York, you may see everywhere. Come into
the coalfields of Pennsylvania; there you will frequently find thousands
and thousands of miners unable to work, either locked out by their employers,
or striking as a last resource against their pitiful wages being cut down
a little more.
Why should there be such a struggle? Why don't
these men go to work and take coal for themselves? Not because there is
not coal land enough in those mining districts. The parts that are worked
are small as compared to the whole coal deposits. The land is not all used,
but it is all owned, and before the men who would like to go to work can
get the opportunity to work the raw material, they must pay to its owner
thousands of dollars per acre for land that is only nominally taxed.
Go West, find people filing along, crowding
around every Indian reservation that is about to be opened; travelling through
unused and half-used land in order to get an opportunity to settle—like men
swimming a river in order to get a drink. Come to this State, ride through
your great valleys, see those vast expanses, only dotted here and there by
a house, without a tree; those great ranches, cultivated as they are cultivated
by blanket men, who have a little work in ploughing time, and some more work
in reaping time, and who then, after being fed almost like animals, and sheltered
worse than valuable animals are sheltered, are forced to tramp through the
State. It is the artificial scarcity of natural opportunities.
Is there any wonder that under this treatment
of the land all over the civilised world there should he want and destitution?
Aye, and suffering—degradation worse in many cases than anything known
among savages, among the great masses of the people.
How could it be otherwise in a world like this
world, tenanted by land animals, such as men are? How could the Creator,
so long as our laws are what they are—how could He, himself, relieve it?
Suppose that in answer to the prayers that ascend for the relief of poverty,
the Almighty were to rain down wealth from heaven, or cause it to spout tip
from the bowels of the earth. Who, under our present system, would own it?
The landowner. There would be no benefit to labour. Consider, conceive any
kind of a world your imagination will permit. Conceive of heaven itself,
which, from the very necessities of our minds, we cannot otherwise think
of than as having an expansion of space—what would be the result in heaven
itself, if the people who should first get to heaven were to parcel it out
in big tracts among themselves?
Oh, the wickedness of it; oh, the blasphemy
of it! Worse than atheists are those so-called Christians who by implication,
if not by direct statement, attribute to the God they call on us to worship,
the God that they say with their lips is all love and mercy, this bitter
suffering which today exists in the very centres of our civilisation.
When I was last in London, the first
morning that I spent there, I rose early and walked out, as I always like
to walk when I go to London, through streets whose names I do not know;
I came to a sign—a great big brass plate, »Office of the Missionary
Society for Central Africa.« I walked half a block, and right by the
side of the Horse Guards, where you may see the pomp and glare of the colour
mounting, there went a man and a women and two little children that seemed
the very embodiment of hard and hopeless despair.
A while ago I was in Edinburgh, the Modern
Athens, the glorious capital (for such it is in some parts)—the glorious
capital of Scotland; aye, and I went into those tall houses, monstrous they
seemed, those relics of the old time, and there, right in the shadow, in
the centre of such intellectual activity, such wealth, such patriotism,
such public spirit, were sights that would appall the veriest savage.
I saw there the hardest thing a man can look
at. They took me to an institution where little children are taken in and
cared for, whose mothers are at work, and here I saw the bitterest of all
sight little children shrunken and sickly from want of food; and the superintendent
told me a story. He pointed out a little girl, and said: »That little
thing was brought in here, almost starving, and when they set food before
her, before she touched it or tasted it, she folded her hands and raised
her eyes, and thanked her Heavenly Father for his bounty.«
Good God! Men and women—think of the blasphemy
of it! To say that the bounty of that little child's Heavenly Father was
conceded so. No! No! No! He has given enough and to spare for all His providence
brings into this world. It is the injustice that disinherits God's children;
it is the wrong that takes from those children their heritage, not the Almighty.
Aye, years ago, I said on this platform that
the seed had been set. Now the grand truth is beginning to appear. From
one end of Great Britain to the other, all through this country, into the
Antipodes to which I am going wherever the English tongue is spoken—aye,
and beyond, on the continent of Europe—the truths for which we stand are
making their way. The giant Want is doomed. But I tell you, and I call upon
my comrades to bear me witness, that there is a reward in this belief, in
this work, which is utterly independent of results.
In London, on one of my visits, a clergyman
of the Established Church asked a private interview with me. He said: »I
want to talk with you frankly. Something I have seen of your sayings has
made me think that you could give me an answer. Let me tell you my story.
I was educated for the Church; graduated at one of the universities; took
orders; was sent to a foreign country as a missionary. After a while I became
a chaplain in the navy; finally, a few years since, I took a curacy in London,
and settled here. I have been, up till recently, a believing Christian.
I have believed the Bible to be the word of God, and I have rested implicitly
on its promises; the one promise I have often thought of: 'Once I was young,
and now I am old, yet never have I seen the righteous forsaken, nor his
seed begging their bread.' I believed that till I came to my own country.
I believed that until I undertook the ministerial
work in London. I believed it was true. Now I know it is not true; I have
seen the righteous forsaken and his seed begging their bread. My faith
is gone; and I am holding on here, but I feel like a hypocrite. I want to
ask you how it seems to you.« And I told him in my poor way, as I
have been trying to tell you tonight, how it is, simply because of our violation
of natural justice; how it is, simply because we will not take the appointed
Aye, in our own hearts we all know. To the man who appreciates this
truth, to the man who enters this work, it makes little difference—this
thing of results. This at least he knows, that it is not because of the
Power that created this world and brought men upon it that these dark shades
exist in our civilisation today; that it is not because of the niggardliness
of the Creator.
The prayer that the Master taught
His disciples: »Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is
in Heaven,« was no mere form of words. It is given to men to struggle
for the kingdom of justice and righteousness. It is given to men to work
and to hope for and to bring on that day of which the prophets have told
and the seers have dreamed; that day in which involuntary poverty shall be
utterly abolished; that day in which there shall be work for all, leisure
for all, abundance for all; that day in which even the humblest shall have
his share, not merely of the necessities and comforts, but of the reasonable
luxuries of life; that day in which every child born among us may hope to
develop all that is highest and noblest in its nature; that day in which
in the midst of abundance the fear of want shall be gone.
This greed for wealth that leads men to turn
their backs upon everything that is just and true, and to trample upon
their fellows lest they be trampled upon; to search and to strive, and
to strain every faculty of their natures to accumulate what they cannot
take away, will be gone, and in that day the higher qualities of man shall
have their opportunity and claim their reward.
We cannot change human nature; we are not so
foolish as to dream that human nature can be changed. What we mean to do
is to give the good in human nature its opportunity to develop.
Try our remedy by any test—the test of justice;
the test of expediency. Try it by any dictum of political economy; by any
maxim of good morals; by any maxim of good government. It will stand every
test. What I ask you to do is not to take what I or any other man may say,
but to think for yourselves!