Third Edition

Author of  "Natural Law in Social Life"
"Capturing Foreign Markets"
"What is the Single Tax?"
"What is Property?"


The United Committee for the Taxation
of Land Values, Ltd.,
94, Petty France, London, S.W.1.

Unemployment and the Land

Unemployed willing workers are nowhere to be found except in modern civilised society. Unemployment is unknown to primitive peoples, and was unknown in England until comparatively recent times. We cannot imagine Crusoe on his island "looking for work," nor can we think of the Pilgrim Fathers when they landed from the "Mayflower" on the new Continent as finding any difficulty in the matter. Work came to all without favour of any man. People stood in need of food, clothing and shelter, and as a matter of course got busy providing themselves with all such things.

But when we turn to modern civilisation there is a different story to tell. Here we find that as soon as a certain stage of social development is reached there appears the novel spectacle of would-be workers seeking employment and unable to find it. Here we find men in need of food, clothing and shelter, who, though eager to toil for such things, nevertheless stand idle. This lack of opportunity to work for a living so distorts our outlook on life that the mere getting of work has come to be regarded as a great prize or piece of luck, and we talk of "looking for work" and "finding work" and "giving work" as if work in itself were the object of our desire instead of only a process to be gone through in getting the things we need. The things and not the work are what men really desire.

It may also be instructive to remember that unemployment has no counterpart in the lives of the lower animals, though they suffer from the disadvantage of having no power to control their destiny such as man possesses.


Are not such basic facts enough to show that somewhere our civilization has taken the wrong turning, and that we must discover just where it has gone astray if ever the underlying cause of unemployment is to be revealed? Unemployment is in truth a scourge brought on ourselves by our own folly. Deeply embedded in civilised society as we know it today lie man-made laws which conflict with the natural order, and these man-made laws are responsible for the monstrous spectacle of able-bodied men and women who seek but cannot find the chance of working for a living.


All great truths are simple truths, and all great problems can be reduced to their simple elements, however complicated they may appear at first sight. Look at man and the conditions of his existence. He is created with wants which must be satisfied if he is to live. He is also created with head and hands, by using which the things he needs can be produced. But it is impossible to produce anything from the void. Before man can work productively something more than wants and power to labour is essential—there must be something on which his power to labour can be exerted. Without that "something" man is helpless and can do nothing to satisfy his wants, however great his skill. This third essential we find in the earth and all the natural opportunities contained therein, freely provided for our use.


Here then we have all that is needed for employment. (1), the desire for food, clothing, and shelter. (2), the powers of hand and brain. (3), the raw materials of the earth on which these powers can be exerted and the desired things brought forth. These are the three essential elements: absolutely nothing more is needed for employment and wealth production. On the one hand, men with wants and ability to work; on the other hand, Mother Earth with all her resources.

To work productively is simply to apply labour to land. It it simply to transform the raw materials of the earth into shapes adapted to the satisfaction of human desires. We are not echoing the cry of "Back to the Land" in the sense of each of us getting a little bit to farm. There is not the slightest need for us all to turn to farming, even were it possible. Agriculture is but one of the hundred uses to which land can be put and for which it is the first essential. Neither mining, quarrying, house building, factory building nor railway making, can be carried on without land, and every raw material is drawn from it. We are apt to forget that not only food but everything we need comes from the land. It is impossible to think of a single commodity in the whole world that is not the product of labour applied to the raw materials of the earth. Thus, in the last resort, employment means use of land while unemployment means obstruction to use of land. Let labour and capital have access to land, and employment of every kind results; separate them from land, or make access to it difficult, and to that extent men stand idle.


As a great philosopher has said:—

Supposing that when hundreds of thousands are unemployed and hard times are everywhere we could send a deputation to the High Court of Heaven to represent the misery and poverty consequent on our not being able to find employment...... What answer would we get? "Are your lands all in use?" "Are your natural resources all developed?" "Are your minerals, your brickfields, your quarries all worked out?" "Have you no building sites lying idle?" "Are there no untapped natural opportunities for labour left in England?" It is shameful to think what our answer would have to be. What could we ask the Creator to furnish us with that is not already here in abundance? He has given us this globe and lavishly stocked it with raw materials out of which everything we need can be fashioned.


In these raw materials of the earth have we not an inexhaustible workshop freely provided for our use, and is it possible that any man can stand idle if entry to this workshop is permitted? Why then do workers by the million stand at the gate with folded hands? The answer is that this workshop has become the private possession of a privileged few and the power has been given them to lock and bar the doors till they are paid a price for entry. This is the power of taboo and is the prime source of unemployment, whatever secondary causes there may be as well. Is it not clear that had the Pilgrim Fathers been subjected to like conditions when they landed on the shores of New England, they too would have been faced with the problem of how to get work; and would not they, like us, have regarded the getting of work as a great prize?


We would not put back the hands of the clock, but none the less, useful lessons may be learned from the England of the Middle Ages. Historians who record the condition of the people in those days tell us that so long as the common lands existed (they covered one-third of the country's area) there were no unemployed men. But just as the commons were taken from the people and "enclosed" so did the spectre of unemployment begin to raise its head and the "sturdy beggar" infest the highways.

Since then enclosures have steadily grown till today the commons have been practically wiped out from the map of England, and "sturdy beggars" (now called the unemployed) have steadily increased in number till they seem to be looked upon as one of our established institutions, and many of our authorities tell us there is no way out.


Today this same process of enclosure, under another name, is proceeding before our eyes among native tribes in Colonial possessions, with the same dire consequences—disinherited men seeking work at any price. So long as the natives retained their tribal lands, workless men did not and could not exist. These people were under no compulsion to "look for work," for work was to be had on their tribal lands without the asking. When white settlers appeared on the scene—accustomed at home to see would-be workers begging for jobs—great was their surprise. They found the "labour market" short of workers, as they expressed it. These "Blacks" seemed to be fellows of infinite leisure; they seemed to gain a living with little effort, have endless feasts and pow-wows and, from the civilised point of view, to be quite indifferent to work unless when they themselves wanted it, and then it came without asking. Those White Settlers who wanted cheap labour and plenty of it quickly discovered the cause of this (to them) intolerable situation. They were not long in making the discovery that the tribal lands prevent them from getting cheap labour. So long as the lands are open, the native fights shy of the labour market. Being free to work for himself on the tribal land, he is not driven by hunger to compete for wages from employers.

So white settlers have set about "Civilising" these people by destroying their tribal land system. They are taking the lands from the natives and wherever they have done so, the result has been abundant supply of "labour on the market" with wages kept down by the competition of landless men, just as they are at home.*

* This is confirmed by evidence given before the Native Labour Commission (Kenya) in 1912-13. Settler after Settler came before the Commission and demanded in the most precise terms that the natives should be forced out of "Reserves" to work for wages by cutting down their land so that they should have less than they could live on. Lord Delamere, himself owner of 150,000 acres, said: "If this policy is to be continued that every native is to be a landholder of a sufficient area on which to establish himself, then the question of obtaining a satisfactory labour supply will never be settled." The process of reducing men to unemployment and poverty is here stated in all its nakedness and simplicity.

Witnesses also urged that sufficient land should not be granted to provide for increase in native population. In refusing Land an "adequate" supply of labour on the market would be guaranteed.

The denial of the right to land means the denial of the right to work, save on the terms of the landowner; and this is as true in civilized society as among primitive races, so named. The power of a section of the community to close Nature's Workshop against labour and capital is everywhere the all-sufficient first cause of unemployment.


Turning to England we find that irresponsible private property in land, with power to bolt and bar Nature's workshop against labour is an institution of comparatively recent growth and we find that unemployment has accompanied it. It dates from enclosure of the Commons in the XVth Century, the effects of which are so graphically described in More's "Utopia." Telling of the people whose means of livelihood had thus been taken from them, Sir Thomas More writes:—"And yet then also they be cast into prison as vagabondes, because they go about and worke not; whom no man will set a worke, though they never so willingly offer themselves thereto." Reflection and observation will show that whatever else may be reformed, idle though willing workers will remain to reproach our boasted civilisation, so long as this power of taboo remains. The State may pour out the taxpayers' money in the effort to "provide work" by road-building, and relief schemes of every kind; banks, insurance companies, and railways may be nationalized; industries may be rationalized; the rich may be taxed out of existence; goods may enter our ports free from all duties, foreigners may raze their tariff walls to the ground; the school-leaving age may be raised and old people pensioned so as to relieve the labour market; but whatever their merits in other ways, none of these expedients get down to the root of the problem. From the standpoint of lessening unemployment, they are at best but makeshifts and in the long run will avail us nothing, for by such plans the barricade between land and labour is in no way lowered. If you want to judge an unemployment policy ask: Does it set free opportunities for work?—does it make access to land easier?—does it make the land cheaper? That is the final test.

In this essay our aim is to analyse the essential features of the problem, to lay bare the underlying cause. We make no profession of exploring every nook and cranny. To assert that there is a prime cause of unemployment is not to shut one's eyes to contributory causes, such as tariff obstacles to trade, defective currency and the incubus of Reparations. Our assertion is that a landless people must of necessity suffer from unemployment however perfect its social organization in other respects. Unjust laws and institutions can impoverish men but cannot rob them of work so long as the earth is open.


It is futile to blame Governments for not "providing" work. They cannot do it, though to say so will shock the advocates of public spending. It is beyond the power of man to "provide" work. As well think he can "provide" digestion, or circulation, or respiration, or sunshine. The opportunities for work come to man in lavish abundance as the free gift of a Higher Power and not by grace of any fellow creature. Productive employment can be increased in one way only and that is by free access to the fountain source of all employment.


What Governments can and must do is to sweep aside those barriers that stand between willing workers and the medium on which alone work can be had. They can break down obstacles that prevent employment. The State can do no more than throw wide open the doors of Nature's Workshop. When that is done, productive employment will come of its own accord so long as men's need for food, clothing, shelter and all the good things of this life remains. Henry George spoke the truth when he said:

"If there is want, if there is scarcity, if there are men who cannot find employment, if there are people starving in the midst of plenty, is it not simply because what the Creator intended for the use of all men has been made the private property of the few?"


"But are you not making too much of what you call barriers?" someone will suggest. In reply we ask you to look at the countless sites in and around our industrial centres which, though offering opportunities for labour and production of every kind, stand idle, or under-used, because of the unreasonable prices demanded for access. We ask you to examine the records of land sales in any such areas, and you will find that any price from £200 to £1,000,000 per acre, or over, is demanded for leave to use. That is the toll now paid for mere leave to work. Not one brick may be laid on another; not one house, shop, warehouse or factory may be built until this obstruction is surmounted. Till then the land lies out of reach and idle men patrol our streets.

The Prime Minister and other Members of the Labour Government have put it on record that their "employment plans" meet with grave obstruction from this source. Swansea Corporation has been considering Unemployment Relief Work, involving an expenditure of £500,000 and the Borough Surveyor states they have come absolutely up against a blank wall over the ownership of the land. Inflated land prices block the way.*

* White Paper No.119 of 1913, ordered by the House of Commons, shows that in the year 1911-12, 11 County Boroughs and 1,065 Urban Distncts in England and Wales covered 3,884,139 Acres and that of this area, 2,533,035 acres were defined and rated merely as agricultural land.
White Paper No.144 deals with Scotland and shows that in the year 1911-12, 190 Boroughs covered 157,881 acres of which 58,883 acres were defined as agricultural land, though within the borough boundaries.
These figures give some indication of the amount of valuable undeveloped land in our industrial centres. It is mostly held at ransom prices.

Here are a few quite ordinary examples of the prices asked by private owners for leave to use land, i.e., for leave to work:—

SHEFFIELD: Darwin Road,
Housing site
£540 per acre
NEWCASTLE: Delaval Farm,
Housing site
£600 per acre
GLASGOW, Govan:£968 per acre
LONDON, Golders Green:£2,000 per acre
CARDIFF, Dumfries Place: £40 per sq. yard
(£193,000 an acre)
LIVERPOOL, Parker St. Corner; 
for street widening:
£317 per sq. yard
(£1,534,230 an acre)


We find the same taboo in rural districts. In a small Sussex village where cottages are so scarce that, in some cases, two families are forced to occupy one cottage, the local builder was asked how he was off for work, and replied that he would much like to build some cottages to keep his men busy. He was then asked why he did not do so, seeing that the need for accommodation was great and that both the capital and the labour were at his command. "Yes," he replied, "but I cannot get any site along the high road for less than £3 per foot frontage, and such a price I can't pay with fair chance of return on my money." So the cottages are not built, and builders stand idle. Now carefully consider what this means. Here we have:—

  1.  The need for cottages.
  2.  The builder anxious to supply the need.
  3.  The workers in his employ anxious to work.
  4.  The vacant sites.

Absolutely nothing more is wanted to set things going, but all is blocked by the land monopoly in this and thousands of other cases throughout the Country. This is the barrier and nothing will set the builder and his men to work till it is swept away.

Carefully note that this is but the start of the evil, for the barrier grows in height every day that passes. Every advance in powers of production, every public improvement, every increase in population, brings with it higher land values, and (so long as these values are privately appropriated) makes entry to Nature's Workshop ever more difficult. It is as if men digging a trench were to throw the earth in front of them so that each advance they make increases the difficulty of further progress.


Let us clear our minds. Unemployment is no part of the natural order as many assume it to be: it is no decree of Providence. On the contrary, it is an affliction brought on us by human injustice. Let this be realised and the main reason is at once disclosed why it is hard to get the chance of working. Nature in her bounty provides a workshop—the natural resources of this earth—within which there is room for all and to spare. So many are the opportunities within this workshop that were it open to all, lack of work would be unthinkable. If, therefore, jobs are hard to get, it is at bottom because entry to the workshop is denied to all but a favoured few whom we allow to open or close the doors as self-interest or fancy takes them. The scarcity of opportunity which results from this legalised lock-out we regard, in our blindness, as a dispensation of Providence and forthwith embark on endless "relief schemes" in the hope that we shall thus ease the lot of those locked out. Unemployment is made by law. The cure is to repeal the laws that make it. We must steadily refuse to give ear to those false guides who tell us there is no sure remedy.

It cannot be maintained that unemployment is due to over-population. How is that possible so long as millions of acres of valuable land lie idle or half used? It will be time to talk of over-population as the cause of unemployment if, after land of every kind is thrown open to those who want to use it, we still find that opportunities to work for a living remain scarce.

"There need be no beggars in Countries where there are so many acres of unimproved improvable land as there are in England."—(Sir William Petty.)


We have dealt with the enclosures of the past and have referred to the inflated land prices of today which obstruct the use of labour and capital. The facts and figures already quoted are evidence that the enclosures which were responsible for the first appearance of unemployment in England are in essence still being made in our own day, though they are now brought about in a more subtle way, and called by another name. The enclosures of the past chiefly concerned rural land of comparatively small value. They were brought about by Acts passed through Parliaments of landlords and they robbed the peasants of the commons. They were perpetrated openly and even brazenly. The enclosures of our day are made with greater cunning, and they affect not so much rural land of small value, as land of great value in and around our industrial centres. It is in these industrial districts that the value of land is greatest and is rising most rapidly because of urgent demand for its use by growing populations. It is precisely such land that is most withheld from use by the modern equivalent of enclosure—speculative withholding. This results from our present system of taxation and rating which exempts valuable idle land from contribution to the upkeep of public services and puts all the burden on land that is developed, so that where land is rising in value a premium is put on withholding and a penalty on development. These urban and semi-urban lands, held up while "ripening" are our modern enclosures. They are to be seen in plenty around every growing centre and are responsible for more suffering, poverty and unemployment than ever were the enclosures of past times. They will continue to afflict us so long as the present system of taxation which encourages them is allowed to persist.


It remains to show how to set about the liberating process and most fortunately a powerful weapon stands ready to be used for this purpose. Taxation justly applied is the key. The present system encourages land withholding, and therefore breeds unemployment; just taxation would throw open our land and thus set men to work.


Taxation so applied as to make it unprofitable for anyone to hold land (whether in city or in country) without fully using it will accomplish the desired end. We must impose taxation so as to reward the full use of land and discourage its non-use or half-use. Such a system is the Taxation of Land Values. Land Value Taxation is the reverse of our present system which places the heaviest burden on land which is fully used and none at all on land which is held idle. Under our present system the more fully land is used either in town or country the heavier is the burden of taxation imposed on it. Greater encouragement could not be offered to the speculator who withholds land for the rise and in doing so closes opportunities for labour. The thing is seen at work most clearly in and around our growing industrial districts, where land rises in value owing to increase in population and improvement in public services. In such districts we see everywhere land which though urgently needed for the healthy development and employment of the community and worth vast sums, yet stands idle, because (being exempt from taxation so long as it is idle) it can be held up in the confident expectation of obtaining yet higher prices for it as population increases.

It is important to note that the barrier thus raised against labour and capital is not confined to the locking up of this or that particular bit of land. It extends much further, because the locking up of some land creates land famine or scarcity, and so raises the price of all land thus heightening the barrier against employment throughout the whole country.


Taxation of Land Values will put an end to all this, for under that system taxation is so imposed as to throw open the doors of Nature's Workshop instead of closing them. Under it, owners of land are not excused from taxation on valuable, much-needed land because they keep it lying idle, nor are they called upon to pay one penny more when they build on or make other proper use of it. Under this system taxation is levied on the value of the bare land whether used or not used, so that to hold up for the rise becomes an unprofitable instead of a profitable proposition as it very often now is. And since improvements are exempted from taxation, full use of land is further encouraged. Under the liberating pressure of this system productive employment would grow till it reached its natural limit—the complete satisfaction of every human want. Taxation of Land Values, by liberating the sources of production leads to the fullest possible employment. To establish the system the first step is to separate the value of the land from the value of all "improvements" such as houses, factories, shops, farm-buildings, walls, drains, etc., etc. The second step is to take taxation off all such "improvements" and put it on to the land value, whether the land be fully used, half-used, or withheld from use altogether. No longer will it then pay to withhold.

Remove rates and taxes from industry of every kind, and place them where they ought to be—on the communal value of the land. Let us never forget that it is only because we allow the communal land value to escape into private pockets that we are forced to tax industry. When that change is made it will no longer pay to hold land without employing the maximum of labour on it and no one will want to hold more than he can use to the utmost.


This land value policy means using land to its fullest capacity. No more idle builders and idle building sites; idle miners and undeveloped minerals; idle labourers and idle fields. Under such conditions of freedom nothing could stop wages (purchasing power) from rising, and nothing could bring down the higher wage level so long as opportunities for productive work remain open. Not only would there be greater production from which the higher wages could come, but the present one-sided competition for jobs made artificially scarce by land monopoly would give place to competition among employers for workers.


Under the practical remedy we advocate, the bolts which now bar Nature's Workshop would be withdrawn and the unlimited opportunities for useful work of every kind which exist within, would become available on equal terms for the use of all men. Instead of more men than jobs, the order of the day would be more jobs than men and the impious superstition that opportunities for employment are scarce by decree of Providence would cease to dominate our minds.


Since these pages were first written the British Budget of 1931 has become law and a new chapter has been opened in the history of our country. In this Budget, which, despite the bitter opposition of every vested interest, now stands on the Statute Book, provision is made for a tax on the value of land, whether used or not, in so far as it has a value for other than purely agricultural purposes; and all land that is not specially exempted will be valued at its true market value apart from improvements. Unfortunately the tax does not embrace all land having a value. But this, and the fact that the tax is levied as a beginning at not more than 1d. in the £ of the capital value should not let us minimise the immense victory that has been won. The great thing is that the principle for which the followers of Henry George so long have fought has now at least been established in practice. For the first time in our history the community will take to itself a share of the communal fund created by itself. The door so long locked, barred and bolted has now been forced ajar and continued pressure is all that is needed to throw it wide open. The first and hardest step has been takent

But important as the fiscal side may be and fully as it alone would justify the Budget of 1931, the friends of the Bill in Parliament and elsewhere advanced other and even more weighty arguments in its favour. They fully realised that the principle embodied in this Budget is more than a great fiscal reform: it is above all a great social reform for it was recognised by friend and foe alike as forecasting the doom of land monopoly. It was hailed as the path we must tread if we are to relieve Unemployment, raise wages and solve the housing problem. The land must be unlocked, here is the key. In stressing this side of the reform none was more to the front than Mr. Philip Snowden, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Bringing the great debate to a conclusion on the Third Reading of the Finance Bill on 3rd July (which was carried by 274 to 222 votes), Mr. Philip Snowden said:

"The principle underlying this Bill is to assert the right of the community to the ownership of the land. I have never made any question about that, nor that that right should be expressed in the form of a rent paid by the occupier or rather the owner of the land to the community. As I said just now, this is only the first step in the reform of our land system. The effect of that system has been to place a burden on industry of hundreds of millions a year. It has crowded our people into pestilential slums, and it has driven hundreds of thousands of people from the land into the towns to compete with the town workers, with the result that wages have been depressed and unemployment has been increased.
I commend the Bill to the House of Commons, not only upon its financial proposals but also upon its land proposals. I think that when they come into operation their social and economic effect will be seen, but it is only the first step.
The party for whom I speak have always put the question of land reform in the forefront of their programme. Although I may not live to see the step that we have taken this afternoon advance still further at any rate I submit this Bill to the House of Commons with the satisfaction that I believe that we have begun a far-reaching reform which some day will liberate the land for the people and abolish once and for all the tyranny under which the people in this country have suffered."

When opinions such as these are expressed by a Chancellor of the Exchequer in the British House of Commons on the passing of the most far reaching Act on land value taxations of our time, who will dare to say that our ideals are making no progress, or that the views expressed in the pages that precede are but an idle dream?

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