If your house were
on fire and your piano needed tuning, to which would you telephone first:
The fire department or the piano tuner? If a sane, intelligent-ism-less
means for ending our economic distress were at hand and a host of futile
panaceas were also before you, which would you choose: Ending your evils
or poulticing your wounds?
*Russ bought the site of the Russ Building
for 37,50 – Vide S.F. Chronicle, October 1932.
If you were laboring, struggling,
striving and failing under an-ism that was certain to keep you in misery,
why would you care if you were threatened with Communism or Fascism or Bolshevism
in exchange for your present-ism?
Well, your house is on fire and the remedy
is at hand and you are struggling against as miserable an-ism as any that
you fear, so why don't you wake up Mr. Business Man and Mr. Professional
Man and Mr. Farmer and Mr. Working Man and Mr. Artist and Mr. Artisan
and Mr. Merchant and Mr. Inventor and all you Misters who have ideas and
products and services to sell or provide, and who do good work and who
ought to be well rewarded for it!
For the -ism you labor under is Landlordism!
And Landlordism is respectable racketeering.
And the remedy, so simple, so long before
us, so thoroughly explained and so clearly described (with the burdens
and woes due to ignoring it, so marvelously prophesied) is simply this:
Meet publicly created needs by publicly collecting
publicly created wealth. Leave privately created wealth in the hands of
those creating it.
And what is publicly created wealth? And what
is privately created wealth?
Publicly created wealth is the value of the
land; privately created wealth is money earned. Only the presence of the
people can give value to land. The value appears in rent that rises in
proportion to the numbers of the people. Put that rent in the public treasury.
Stop taxing homes. Stop taxing industry. Stop taxing the fruits of labor
and of genius. Stop taxing anything unless you want to destroy it. A tax
is a fine. Get your public revenue from the value you publicly create.
We own our United States. We Americans. We
surely own our own country. You don't own it. I don't own it. But WE do.
And we prove it by taking a part of the land rent that we create in the form
of a tax. And if the holder doesn't pay the little portion we now take he
forfeits the land. But we let landlords who give nothing take the most of
it and then we burden ourselves in our capacity as industrialists and workers
and capitalists, and in all other forms of serving our fellows by taxing
ourselves to make up the money they get for letting us live in our own
Yes, as capitalists. We need capitalists.
Men who work and build and save and plan are capitalists. A capitalist
is a man who saves his money and puts it to work. But if we were wise and
took all the land rental value we create no capitalist would put his savings
into land. We do not need the aid of capital to furnish land. We do need
the aid of capital to prepare it sometimes. And we need the aid of capital
for many things.
We speak of ours as a Capitalistic government.
This simply means that as yet we have not been able to distinguish between
(1) Saving our money and
using is as a tool, and;
(2) Holding an indefensible
It is as though we were to refer to ourselves
as maintaining a Firearmistic government and were incapable of distinguishing
between those men who bore firearms in defense of the public good and
those who bore firearms for the purpose of holding people up!
It was not Capitalism that spurred the Russians
to bloody revolution. They had little capitalism in Russia. Almost none.
Try to think of some big Russian Company. The railroads belonged to the
state. What murdered them was landlordism. The privilege of a few to tax
for their private use. The Russians happened to read Marx instead of Henry
George, and mistook Landlordism for Capitalism.
Capital invested in the privilege of collecting
the public revenue is money paid for the right to hold us up. Nothing
else. No matter how time-honored the custom of permitting some of us to
trade in the right to collect land rent, a public revenue, it is different
in form only from giving the privilege of trading in in territory or victimized
groups for the "protection" racket. In what one of its effects on commerce
and the public good does collection of land rent differ from collection
of gangster protection? In what way? What service does the landlord perform?
What service does the racketeer perform?
Landlordism is the father of all monopolies.
Why do we rage so about public utilities that absorb three percent of our
income and furnish something for it, while we supinely agree to Landlordism
which absorbs thirty per cent and gives nothing? And regulated utilities
could give cheaper service if their equipment were freed of taxes.
Like Landlordism, taxes are a heritage of
the ages of man's ignorance. There should be no taxes. A tax is a fine.
In what way do they differ? To tax a man is to take part of his money to
pay public expenses, whether he wants to pay it or not. Yet that same man
by his presence alone has made the land rent just that much greater than
it would be if he did not exist, be he a great business executive, a great
professional man or a day laborer. We Americans
get along pretty well with private initiative. We set our individual hopes
by it. We have rewarded many men who have put things at our disposal. We
need them. We set our individual hopes by them. A fine architect ought to
get rich. A fine doctor ought to get rich. An author who pleases. A toolmaker.
But are we so dumb that we cannot discern
the difference between reward for service and reward for useless privilege?
Are we so damned dumb that we are going to
let ourselves murder each other into Communism or Fascism to protect our
stupid practice of pouring public revenue into hands that do not earn it
and tearing its equivalent from private hands that do earn it?
Private enterprise deserves a reward, provided
it isn't the enterprise of the hold-up man. There should be rich people
if their riches are secured by furnishing something that people want and
that they produce out of themselves. Brains should be rewarded. Brains that
serve and create are the only thing of value in the world. The public does
not begrudge a rich reward for brains that serve, and we need not fear brains,
for men of true intellect do not prey upon their fellows.
Values created by individual thought and labor
should stay in the hands of that individual. Values created by the cooperation
of groups should remain in the hands of those groups. But values created
by the public should remain in the hands of the public!
One concrete instance: San Francisco's largest
office building is the Russ Building. Capital built the Russ Building and
deserves a reward for placing so fine a structure at the disposal of the
people of San Francisco. But that capital is having a hard time and is not
getting its reward. The capitalists who built that building pay taxes. The
tenants pay taxes. But the capitalists will lose their reward and their capital
too if they fail to continue to pay the ground rent of their ninety-nine
year lease. The ground rent to the Russ estate for the privilege of existing
in San Francisco. And what does the Russ Estate do for them with the money?
It pays a fraction of it in taxes. The balance may stay here but probably
goes elsewhere. True it may have bought the "right" to levy tribute on
the building. But as it is an old estate you can imagine what fraction
of the lease value it paid for the landlordship.* For the 'right' to say
to San Franciscans "Before you step on this part of your city, pay here!"
It bought a right that is not a right. It is a privilege born of public
stupidity. And just as the purchaser of stolen property loses them without
recompense when the owner discovers them, so should the public take back
its self-created value by levying a charge for rental against all the land
to the full extent of its yield. And take its collective hand out of the
thinker's and the worker's private pocket.
The private collection of land value or publicly
created income is wrong. The public appropriation of privately earned
income is wrong. As long as we cherish and protect something dead wrong
in our economics–Kill your pregnant pigs! Dole your dole! Plough in your
wheat! Putter, Peck and Dabble, but don't expect to go ahead. The Free
Land is gone. The Free Land that made America what she is, is gone.