Nature of Society † by † Leon Maclaren

Chapter X

Public and Private
Rights and Duties

Men cannot enjoy their rights, unless they fulfil their duties. The political freedom, which is enjoyed by the peoples of Britain and those other countries which have derived their customs and laws from Britain, is maintained by the clear acknowledgement of certain fundamental duties. This acknowledgement has weakened at times but, as yet has never been entirely eclipsed. Thus it is conceived that every Briton from the Prime Minister downwards is subject to the ordinary law of the land, and owes the same fundamental duties to others as they owe to him. No one is allowed to molest, injure or imprison another, except when he is acting with the sanction of the law, and this sanction is only given in clearly defined and limited cases. Again, no one is permitted without lawful excuse to defame the reputation or credit of another. These primary duties being generally acknowledged and enforced, all may speak and act, freely and without fear; unless, unhappily, they are econonomically dependent on the pleasure of another. Politically they are free. Anyone may go and meet another and talk to him, or he may meet five hundred others and talk to them. Of course, if people gather in numbers, they must not so conduct themselves that they put men and women of "reasonably stout courage" in fear for person or property. So long, however, as they acknowledge the fundamental duties which are common to them all, they may do as they please.

Whereas the British people have shown a genius for these conceptions of fundamental duties essential to political freedom, they have not displayed the same genius where economic duties are concerned. They seem to have considered that anything, short of another human being, can be their absolute private property, with which they can do as they please - all privilege and no duty. They have actively, if tacitly, denied that every able bodied man should live by his own labour, and have honoured and exalted those who have lived by the toil of others, and are, for the most part, pleased if they have the opportunity to do the same. Though they have shrunk from allowing slavery in its full horror, they have very readily considered other human beings, even of their own race, as less than themselves, as mere utensils for their use and enjoyment. This failure to recognize their economic duties has bereft them of their economic rights. In this part of their life, they have not enjoyed freedom, rather have they suffered licence. They have been engaged in a struggle for existence, in which the privileged, the strong and the unscrupulous have often seemed to prosper. Inevitably, the dispossessed, the losers in this struggle, grow restive. If individually they are weak, collectively they are strong. The landowner may be more powerful than the labourer. but the government can overcome the landowner. Where men enjoy political freedom, but have no concept of economic duty, they may use the ballot box to overthrow their economic masters, to destroy all private property, to rob the rich of wealth, the enterprising of opportunity, and all of choice of occupation. Even though they should carry their revenge to this extremity, they would only be asserting the same principal which formerly governed them, the notion that might is right. The ladder to promotion would be different: that is all. They would not, however, be gaining economic freedom, or enlarging the scope of their lives.

It is of major importance, therefore, to consider the basic economic duties which one man owes to another, what flows from their denial, and how they can be enforced.


Men work in order to enjoy the fruits of their labour. They build houses to live in, and sow crops for food to eat. Nothing could be more disheartening for anyone than the expectation that the fruits of his effort will be denied to him. For this reason by ancient custom, a tenancy of agricultural land would last from year to year unless the parties came to some express agreement to the contrary; should the tenancy terminate before the harvest, the tenant would be entitled to go back upon the land and gather in the crops he planted. It is notorious how the leasehold system makes a tenant wary of putting improvements in his land, for the only result may be that the landlord will reclaim the land and thereby obtain the improvements.

A man needs security of tenure of his holding to enable him to reap the full reward of his labours. It is in recognition of this elementary fact that building leases are granted for long terms of years, for were the terms short no man would build. So again in the case of farms, improving leases are granted for a greater number of years than is commonly the case; for no farmer will willingly improve his land for the benfit of a stranger.

This requirement - that if a man is to enjoy the benefit of his own endeavour he must have security of tenure - has led men to believe that the private ownership of land is the foundation of all private property and the basis of individual freedom. The truth, however, lies in the opposite direction. The private ownership of land, far from securing men the full reward of their labour, in fact results in a degradation of labourers to a position of dependence and poverty. Private ownership of land, entailing as it must the private collection of rent, takes from the community that which rightly belongs to the community. More than this, it enables those who own the land to dictate terms to their fellow human beings. Men being what they are, landlords will not unnaturally seek to obtain as much as possible in return for the use of their land. Unless prompted by special considerations, such as the desire to see their land well developed, they will not willingly grant leases which will allow their tenants to collect the growing rent of the land for longer than is absolutely necessary. Thus the constant tendency will be for the length of leases to be reduced until the majority of the people are permanently subject to a week's notice to quit. Under such conditions security of tenure is the exception and not the rule. Under such conditions it is inevitable that building should be neglected and land ill cared for.

A further result of the private ownership of land is that the interests of the landowner and the land-user are at variance. In the majority of cases the landowner will know nothing and care less about the trade for which the land is used. Though he lives next door, he is truly an absentee owner, and his only interest is in exacting the best revenue to be obtained. To the land-user, on the other hand, the land is a precious asset, to be exploited to give the best results, whether it be as room for house and garden or for business purposes. There can be little doubt that were it not for the threat that improvements made in or upon the land by the tenant would only result in an increased rent or, worse, the loss of the land altogether, the tenant would in his own interest make the best possible use of the land. Indeed where men use the land they own, they will commonly look after it very well.

Lastly, the private ownership of land inevitably leads to the withholding of land from use which must condemn men to unemployment and demoralization. It is clear that the private ownership of land, far from providing that security of tenure which ensures to labour the true reward for its effort, has the contrary effect and denies to labour its true wages.

The result of this private property in land, then, is that men work and others enjoy the fruits of their labour; they build houses for others to live in, and sow crops so that others may eat, while they themselves are ill-housed and ill-fed. This result flows, however, from the neglect of duty inherent in the modern conception of private property in land. To abolish private ownership and to substitute some other kind of ownership would be of no help if the same breach of duty persisted.

The government has no better right than anyone else to make land its private property. Every member of the government and all its servants and agents owe the same duty to others, both in their private and public capacity, as others owe to them. The man who is excluded from access to land will not be less excluded because the government excludes him. Those who have no alternative source of employment will not be any less dependent on their employer because the government employs them. The man who is robbed of his wages is not the less robbed because the government takes them. In short, the government has no better right than anyone else to ignore the duties men all owe to one another.

In enforcing the public rights in respect of land, it is of paramount importance to protect the labourer's right to wages.

Simply to pass the land, no matter by what means, under the control of government and to permit the state to exercise all the rights of a full owner, would not provide the security of tenure which is essential to labour. Compared with the power of even a ducal landowner the might of the state would be gigantic. The government would obtain a life and death control over every member of the community and the position of the less influential of its subjects would be very poor indeed. Little imagination would be needed to see how the politicians in control would use this power to maintain their influence, or worse, to see how a small jack-in-office could rule the ordinary people in his district. If the ordinary man is to enjoy true freedom and is to be assured of the fruits of his own endeavour, then his position must be safeguarded against all invasion, whether private or public. In short, it is the duty of government not merely to secure communal rights by enforcing the duties which each individual owes to the community, but also to secure the rights of individuals by enforcing the duties of individuals to eachother. Indeed, the best way to secure the rights of individuals is to enforce both their duties and those of government.

As has been seen, the communal rights in respect of land are first to exact from the landholder the full rent of the land he holds, and secondly to exact from him the duty of maintaining the land in good condition.

In other words, each landholder (and everyone who lives in a house is necessarily a landholder) owes a duty to the community to yield the rent of the land, or his share of it, to the public treasury and to keep his land in good condition. Today throughout the civilized world both these duties are ignored.

The first result is that as the public treasury does not receive the rent, the government has to look elsewhere for its revenue, and where revenue does not come primarily from rent, it must come primarily from wages. Therefore, to the extent that rent is not paid into the treasury to meet the public expenses, to that extent wages must be taken. In other words, because landholders do not do their duty by the community, the government has recourse to taking the wages from the labourers, thus robbing them of their natural reward.


The means by which modern governments obtain the revenue necessary for public services is known as taxation. Adam Smith laid down certain rules for the levying of taxation which he called the Canons of Taxation, most of which are such common sense that they need only be stated to be accepted. They fall under the following main heads:-

  1. Taxation should bear as lightly as possible on industry.
    Obviously, taxation which penalizes industry must reduce industry and, therefore reduce the yield of the taxes.

  2. Taxation should bear equally on all.
    This is an elementary principle of justice.

  3. Taxation should be easy to assess and collect.
    There are two important reasons for this. Taxation which is difficult to assess and collect must involve the government in considerable expense, thus reducing the net yield of the taxes. It is obviously desirable that the government should gain the greatest possible benefit from the loss suffered by the tax-payer, but where much of this loss must go in maintaining expensive government departments for the collection of taxes, the benefit will be considerably smaller. More important than this, however, it is to be noted that where taxes are difficult of assessment and collection men inevitably take advantage of this fact to evade payment. This condition can only too easily lead to the corruption of government by the bribing of officials, which is a very serious matter indeed.

  4. Taxation should be paid by the person on whom it is levied.
    Where the man who actually transmits the tax to the government is able to pass the tax on to others in prices or by other devices, the result inevitably is that the ultimate payer pays considerably more than the actual tax. What is more, it is difficult to know who is in fact paying the tax, and it is very likely that the taxation will be paid by those least able to afford it.

  5. Taxation should be certain in amount.
    When a tax is levied it is obvious that the government should know in advance the amount of revenue which will be collected through the tax. It is of greater importance that the taxpayer should know what he must pay.

Now there are only two bases on which taxation can be raised. The first is land, irrespective of its use, but in accordance with its rent; and the second is the use to which land is put, irrespective of its rental value but according to its productivity. Modern taxation in England is imposed almost entirely on the use to which land is put and according to its productivity. This position is well illustrated by the rating system which may be taken as an example of the less vicious forms of taxation now in use.


The rates were introduced in England in 1601 by the first Poor Law Act, (not to be confused with the Labour laws of the "Dark Ages" which were concerned not with keeping the poor and workless out of mischief as was the Act of 1601, but with an attempt to reduce by law the very high wages prevalent in England after the abolition of serfdom), a fact which is not without significance. Though many alterations in procedure and many exemptions have been made since that date, the principle on which the rate is levied has remained the same. Each separate land unit, together with the buildings or improvements upon it, are assessed for this tax. The important matter is not the weight of the tax, that is to say the number of shillings in the £, but the assessment for the tax, or the net rateable value, as it is called. To paraphrase the words of the Acts of Parliament which now govern the assessment of land and buildings for rates, the valuer must ask himself, What would this unit let at from year to year as it is now used or adapted for use?

Now imagine the city valuer of one of our great industrial centres at work upon his valuation. Above the town let us imagine a moor from which a pleasant slope with a southern aspect drops down into the smoke and grime of the town. In the centre of the city huddled round the great factories and miserable sweat-shops are the houses where the people like to live, for, as we are assured, they like to live near their work. None the less, it is observable that, as the valuer climbs up the hill out of the dust and smoke, he passes first the houses where the foremen live, and further up yet the homes of the clerical staff. Yet higher are the villas of the managerial staff, and halfway up the hill he comes to the new-built house of the trade union leader. Here the valuer pauses. The householders yearning for tradition has found expression in the wooden laths nailed to the external plaster, in the pointed "Gothic" arch of the doorway and the leaded and stained glass panes scattered here and there. Modern efficiency is expressed in a tiled bathroom and ample cupboard space which sells so many houses these days. The valuer remarks to the owner, "This is a nice house", and asks, "How much do you think you could let it at?","£100 a year", is the answer. This figure is taken as the rating valuation. A slight reduction is allowed for repairs, and thenceforward every year the owner must pay in rates to the local authority 15 shillings in every £1, ie. nearly £75 per annum.

Tired by this undue effort, the public official retires to the moor to enjoy the sun and a sandwich, and he props himself against a pillar supporting one of those ubiquitous boards bearing the inscription, "Valuable land for Sale". There he chances upon the owner of the moor and, with due respect, asks him what he is doing with the land. "Nothing," replies the owner, "not even shooting or fishing." "What do you propose to do with it?" asks the valuer. "Oh," says the owner, "the town council want to build houses here so that they can pull down the slums, and I am asking £2,000 per acre. It is an ideal building site." "You are doing nothing with it at the moment," responds the valuer, and he thinks, "What will this land while it is idle let at per year?" It will let at nothing, and the rating assessment is, therefore, nil.

Regretfully the valuer returns from the freshness of the moor to the town. John Brown has erected a new wing to his factory, so he must go and see him. This wing is all that is to be desired; it is light, air-conditioned, having a constant temperature and constant humidity, and the machines are well spaced to provide the greatest safety and efficiency; ample cloakrooms and canteens have been included for the staff. The valuer says to Mr Brown, "You have built a new wing on your factory which leaves nothing to be desired." "That is so," says Mr Brown. "How dare you?" retorts the valuer, "your rating assessment will be increased by £1,000 and every year henceforward your factory must provide 15 shillings in the £1 for us before there is a penny for any other purpose." (Under the De-rating Act, 1925, the rateable value of factories and workshops was substantially reduced. The loss to the local authorities was made good by a tax on petrol. The principal of valuation was not affected.)

Out of the factory the valuer comes among the houses where the working people live, and here he meets the owner of the moor again. "Do you still own these houses, sir? he asks. Have you installed any water since I was here five years ago?" "No," replies the owner. "Have you put in any main drainage?" "No," replies the owner. "Have you re-painted or re-papered any of the houses?" "Certainly not." "Have you complied with any sanitary notices?" "Why should I? You have nowhere else to put the people, so that I cannot pull these places down." "Sir," says the valuer, "your behavior has been wholly honorable and praiseworthy. Since I was here last these houses have grown even more wretched than they were before. Your assessment will be reduced by 5 per cent."

On the way back to his office the valuer learns that Mr Brown has had hot and cold water installed in all his bedrooms. This is really too much, and he goes to Mr Brown's house at once. It is as he had been told, there is even water in the maid's bedroom, so he increases the assessment by £1 per tap, and every year Mr Brown must pay 15 shillings per tap so long as they remain.

This sounds like a caricature, but it is how the rates and the vast bulk of the taxes operate in this country. The man who withholds his land from use pays neither rates nor taxes while it remains idle, no matter how valuable it may be. Before the De-rating Act in 1925 idle land was rated as agricultural land even in the heart of London. Since that date, in order to help the farmers as the politicians said, it pays no rates at all and no Schedule "A" tax (ie. a tax on "Property" including land and buildings). If the land is but inadequately developed the rating assessment will be low as though the land were only suitable to carry that which stands upon it. So slums standing on land worth tens of thousands of pounds per acre pay cottage rates. It is only when the land is fully developed that the rates fall not merely on the full value of the building or improvement but on the full value of the land as well. Thus it is that taxes are not levied on land at all but on the use to which it is put.

So it comes about that every industrialist, architect and builder, planning improvements and developments, must always take into account the burden of rates and taxes which will fall on such improvements. In urban areas rates are levied on the assessment at an average rate of 12 to 15 shillings in the £1, so that the tax is a very heavy one indeed. In addition to this, the central government levies income tax under Schedule "A" on the same or a similar assessment. These burdens are very serious indeed and must inevitably have the effect of preventing improvement and of checking industry.

Everyone knows how the window tax, formerly imposed in this country, resulted in windows being bricked up in fine houses and cottages being built with practically no windows at all. Any tax on improvements and any tax on industry must hamper industry. In these days taxation is levied for the major part on industry, increasing as the enterprise of the labourer increases and falling where it is tardy. So the petrol tax and car licencies are penalties on road transport, all taxes on commodities are penalties on the production of and the trading in these commodities. Exactly how this restriction operates and what is its effect will be thoroughly discussed in the second part of this book. For the present purpose it is sufficient to observe that such taxes all fall on the use to which land is put and leave the land speculator free to operate.


If the modern taxes are tested by the canons of taxation, none of them comes through very well.

  1. Taxation should bear as lightly as possible on industry.
    From what has already been said it is clear that nearly all taxation puts its full weight on industry.

  2. Taxation should bear equally on all.
    The curious fact about British taxes - and the same applies to nearly every civilized country - is that taxation does not fall at all on men in their capacity as landowners. They may, like other men, be subject to income tax on the income they receive, and when they die their estate will be subject to death duties; but, like everyone else, their taxation will depend for the major part on the use to which their land is put and the profit they derive from that use.

    Again, so far have people departed from the idea that taxation should bear equally on all that it is now currently believed that taxation should be levied according to means. In point of fact, even on this bad principle modern taxation is wrong, as it involves a far heavier sacrifice on the really poor. This matter will be discussed later.

  3. Taxation should be easy to assess and collect.
    Judged by this standard taxes vary very considerably. The English rates which have just been discussed are esy to assess and collect and are very satisfactorily managed by the valuation departments of local authorities. Income tax, however, is not easily assessed, but involves an enormous staff and enormous expenditure and is daily evaded by one device or another. All the multiple taxes included under customs and excise are very difficult of collection and these account for 40 per cent of the British budget. They involve not merely large departments for the actual assessment and collection but require a large detective and police force to guard against their infringement, which force has agents throughout the world watching every port and centre of commerce. A very large part of the receipts from these taxes is absorbed by the cost of imposing them.

  4. Taxation should be paid by the person upon whom it is levied.
    Many of the so-called direct taxes are for the greater part indirect. Thus rates levied on a factory are passed into the prices of the commodities produced in it. In this way at every stage of production from the earth to the ultimate consumer the prices of wealth are increased. The ultimate purchaser pays not one levy off rates, but very many. He pays also the landlord's "property tax" or "Schedule 'A' Income Tax" as it is called, the motor licences, petrol taxes, stamp duties and all other impositions on industry. In short, the vast bulk of taxation is paid in this indirect way by the ordinary people whose wages are reduced to the extent by which it increases prices.

  5. Taxation should be certain in amount.
    For the major part, taxes as levied these days do not offend against this principle.


When the collection of economic rent to defray public expenses is tested by these canons of taxation, it is found to comply with all of them.

Ascertaining the true rental value of land is no more difficult than assessing the whole of the country for rates, which is the easiest and cheapest of modern assessments. The valuer would simply pose a different question. He would wish to know what the land unit would let at from year to year if the particular unit had no buildings or improvements upon it at all. The result of this would be that the value of a particular piece of land would not be increased by the improvements put up on it nor reduced by the fact that it carried dilapidated or inadequate buildings. In other words, the valuer would not be concerned with the use to which the land was put but with the value of the land itself. The ordinary haggling of the market would determine its value as it does today.

  1. Taxation should bear as lightly as possible on industry.
    Taking from landholders the true economic rent of their holdings cannot hamper their industry at all. The rent represents the advantage they gain from the work of others by enjoying exclusive possession of a particular piece of land. In taking the rent, therfore, the government is not depriving the landholder of any part of the produce which is due to his own skill or industry. Indeed, far from imposing a burden upon production this method of raising revenue would stimulate it. No man would be able to hold land idle, his dual obligations of paying the rent and maintaining his land in good condition would compel him either to put the land to good use or to give it up. The result must be that all idle land would become vacant land, available for whosoever wished to use it. Consequent upon this, industries would move to the best land available for their particular purposes which must result in increased production. Incidentally, large areas of land would not be required and would be available for public use.

    Yet another important result would be that a landholder's rent would not vary with the amount of work he did. Far from his industry being taxed, he would reap the full benefit of his own enterprise. He would no longer have to consider the penalties imposed by taxation on the developments which he instituted. Finding, as everyone would, that if his land was not put to good use the rent would become an onerous burden, while the more productive his industry the more was to be had for himself, then clearly, he would not be merely encouraged to work well but would be stongly discouraged from idleness.

  2. Taxation should bear equally on all.
    It has already been noted that as every member of the community has an equal right to rent, if the rent is taken by the public authority to defray public expenses an exactly equal amount has been taken from each.

  3. Taxation should be easy to assess and collect.
    The reason why rates involve but little difficulty in assessment and collection is due mainly to the fact that no man can put land in his pocket and protest that he has not got it. It is there for all to see, and may be measured and assessed at any time. Once an overall valuation is obtained the fluctuations in value are easy to ascertain.

  4. Taxation should be paid by the person on whom it is levied.
    One thing is abundantly clear. A landholder could not pass his rent on to others. The effect of taking the rent is to maintain production at its maximum. The increased flow of goods on to the market and the readiness with which new trade could be launched would prevent prices being inflated. This will all be enquired into more closely in later chapters. It is sufficient here to observe the general fact.

    Another result of the public authority taking the rent will be to remove the speculative element which now inflates rent at the expense of wages. Since man will be unable to withhold land from use, the proportion of wealth taken in rent when the new principle is introduced must fall. Clearly, therefore, any attempt by a landholder to pass the charge on to others would be defeated by the fact that the others could obtain land on terms every bit as good as those on which the landholder obtained his. In short, landowners would disappear.

  5. Taxation should be certain in amount.
    The amount of the rent would be assessed by the periodic valuation. The valuation list should be made public so that anyone could ascertain in advance what the value of any particular land unit was. The valuation would be reached on clearly stated principles which private individuals would be able to test. If they thought necessary they could challenge the valuation arrived at by the valuation department, as is the case with rating valuation today, and have the matter settled by an ordinary court of justice.


The denial of the fundamental economic duties, which human beings owe to eachother, results not merely in taxation which plunders the labourer of his wages and which offends against all the common-sense rules of taxation, but may also result in a heavy increase in the burden of taxation. In a community where men are permitted to collect for themselves the whole rent of land, not unnaturally they will seek to gain control of as much land as possible, not to use it, but to obtain rent from it. Again, they will strive to obtain the greatest amount of rent with the least effort on their part. As has been seen, this desire results in two similar practices: firstly, the action of land speculators in aquiring land and keeping it idle so as to inflate its rent: and secondly, the action of industrialists in aquiring land to prevent competitors from gaining access to it, so as to inflate the rent of the land used by them. By both these means, less privileged men are deprived of access to land. They have nothing but their labour to maintain them and are reduced to dependence on those who are willing to employ them. These dispossessed mortals struggle with eachother for employment, and, in employment, for promotion. In this struggle wages are necessarily depressed to the least which the labourers are willing to accept. Of the wealth which they produce, the share enjoyed by them will be low indeed: no handsome houses or clothes for them: no fine schools for their children: doctors, lawyers, actors and musicians cannot afford much time for them. Those who do cater for their desires will be compelled to study cheapness before quality. In a country where the people do not accept their lot as the dispensation of some supernatural power, or where they have ceased to nurse the illusion that any one of them may become president of the state, they will demand alleviation of their poverty.

First comes the rate to relieve the poor, to pay them a sordid pittance for which they must endure unnecessary, menial and degrading work. Then, little by little, the ragged schools, the inspectorate of factories, day schools, pensions, unemployment insurance, health insurance, tax-maintained hospitals and clinics, taxes for milk, food, doctors, family allowances; until a staggering mass of millions is being collected and paid out every day by hundreds of thousands of officials: and all to subsidize poverty.

The whole time, the food, clothing, shelter, medical attendance - all the wealth and services involved in this complex and unwieldy labyrinth of taxes, doles and subsidies - are produced by labour applied to land. If the labourer received this wealth and these services in wages, there would be no need for this excess of barren activity. If he obtained command of a share of the wealth produced in proportion to his endeavour, if he obtained what he could earn for himself as his own master in a fully equipped industry on the best land to be had free of rent, he could pay his own doctor, his children's school fees, his hospital accounts and all the other liabilities he incurred. How much more dignified and natural this would be. He would no longer be kept waiting for hours in draughty corridors, or be ordered and marshalled like the raw material for an industrial process, but would be received with the consideration and courtesy now accorded to the fee-paying, bill-paying customer - and to the treasury inspector. It would not require a delegation to the local authority and a press campaign to gain a new bench in an out-patients' department.

What is more, he would purchase the wealth and services he desired, and not be constrained to accept what some official thought was good for him. He would see, because he experienced it directly, the relation between his industry, his contribution to the wealth of mankind, and the wealth and services which he took in return.

It is no part of the duty of a cabinet minister to turn Robin Hood and rob one man to give to another. Because a man is deprived of most of his proper wages, he is not thereby justified in taking another's. Where men ignore their fundamental duties, however, this is what happens.

Meanwhile, taxation strikes deeper. Taxation is an excellent leveller. Levelled on wages, it levels men down, and cheats them of independence. It entails growing numbers of people in the sterile task of taking from Peter, and, in the same process of impoverishing Peter, forcing him to the same unwelcome dispensary.

Now, plainly, had every landholder recognized his duty to the community by paying the rent of his holding to the public funds and by keeping his land in good condition, no one of them could enclose more land than he could usefully occupy. At one stroke, a source of revenue, which would expand as the community grew, would become available to defray the public expenses without taking one penny from any man's wages, and at the same time, the enclosing of land and the withholding of it from use by members of the community would become impracticable. The heavy demand of taxation, required not to sustain government or the public services but to relieve those impoverished by enclosure, would be unnecessary.


As it is now, the taxpayer has to pay twice for the genuine public service, for good government, good roads, drains, railways, electricity and gas supplies, and other amenities.

Any public works which are not in excess of the needs of the area which they serve, must result in a general improvement of the economic life of the district. Under existing conditions the whole benfit goes in rent, for the struggle between labourers for work holds wages down. The amount of this increase in rent is astonishing. The Middlesex County Council in a report a few years ago stated that main roads, built or improved by the County Council at a cost of just under £7,000,000, had resulted in an increase in the price of land adjoining these roads of £15,000,000. Where men had free access to land, a substantial part of this increase would go in wages, but there can be no doubt that where any public works or amenities serve a useful purpose they must pay for themselves in the rent which they create.

A story is told of an Australian who returned to England from the backwoods to set up his home in the old country. He selected a suitable site and approached the owner for information about the purchase price. The owner demanded £1,000, which amazed the newcomer and caused him to ask, "Why so much?" "Well," said the agent, "the site is bounded by two main roads, has main drainage, water, gas and electricity laid on, is near to the public park which it overlooks and is close to the railway. These are very great benefits and I could easily get £1,000 for this half-acre." The Australian agreed and work began on his house. When it was nearing completion he found a stranger measuring it up and asked him what he was about. The stranger replied that he was from the Valuation Department of the Borough Council. The Australian said, "You may be, but this is my house. What are you doing here?" The Surveyor, a little surprised, explained that he was valuing the house for rates and explained what the rates were. The Australian demanded to know what he had to pay the rates for. "Why," said the Surveyor, "for the main roads, the water, the public park and the other amenities of the district."

Anyone who uses his eyes will observe how the expenditure of the local authorities in making improvements is capitalized by the landowners who advertise these very improvements as reasons why they should be paid higher prices for their land. If this rent were taken by the public authority it would clearly pay for the public services, for every public service that was needed or which benefited the locality would increase the yield of rent. Local authorities would not stint their services to save rates. Provided any scheme undertaken was beneficial, it would pay for itself. If it did not pay for itself this would be the strongest evidence that the work was a luxury and quite unnecessary.

This double payment for public services results not merely in the impoverishment of the taxpayer - and everyone is a taxpayer - but results in the neglect of public services. The very increase in rents resulting from the building and working of a road or a railway, for example, increases the demand for compensation by landowners when their land is required to widen the road or extend the railway. All serious attempts to ensure that land is used in the best interests of the community break down in face of the high price demanded for the land affected. Public authorities find the claims for compensation for the disturbance of the landowners' legal rights so crippling that they are unable to take effective measures. As a result, the roads in the great towns are narrow and congested. Death-dealing twists and corners are left unamended. Outside great railway termini, bottlenecks cramp and delay the traffic. Open spaces are rare and inadequate. Important public buildings such as courts of law and administrative offices, are tucked away in side streets far from the centres of traffic. All is confusion and disorder.

All the time, the actions of landowners, speculators and monopolists are driving more and more people into a few great towns. Timber and water power are devoted to sport; mineral workings are closed against competitors; whole areas are depopulated. At the same time and from the same causes, the control of industry passes into the hands of the money-lenders who lend the funds to supply the buildings, equipment and stock which wages cannot provide. Inevitably, the larger and more powerful concerns buy out the smaller and the control of the whole of industry becomes steadily more centralized. All this conspires to drive the population to the great towns in search of work until over half the population of a whole country lives in two or three small areas; in England; in Greater London and the South Lancashire area. Round every growing town, speculators buy up and hold large areas of land against the inevitable growth of the cities. So while the public authorities in some areas find themselves faced with the ugly scars of industrial waste which mark the place where once a thriving industry supported a substantial population, in others, the authorities have to contend with a rapidly increasing population hurriedly installed in jerry-built houses which sprawl and crowd in rhymeless monotony. The periodic paroxism of industrial depression piles up the dereliction while it impoverishes government.

In the midst of this chaos, the cry goes up for order. Let there be an end of the muddle, let us plan and organize the whole of life! Unfortunately, the answer is not as simple as that.

This facile reaction only leads to further difficulties. At the root of the trouble lies the denial of fundamental economic duties, which denial has denied large numbers of human beings of the opportunity to live and to live more fully. Men and women have been deprived of access to land; they have been caught in a desperate struggle for employment, in which, far from choosing occupations for which they are suited and in which they could find the highest expression of their native talents, they have jumped into whatever employment was offered to them for the sake of the pittance which they might draw in return. In increasing measure their interest has shifted from the work in hand, from their contribution to life, to what they obtained from others, from what they took from life. This lack of interest in their work has put a premium on industrial methods which call for the least intelligence from the operators who have declined from the status of human beings such as John the Tanner, to mere "hands". In this degradation, the people have suffered in all their being, in spirit, in mind and in body. Lack of opportunity, restrictions, and poverty have been the bane of their lives.

The new mode, the planned organization of social life, may give to numbers of people a larger share of the wealth and services such as they are, which are available in the community, but it will make the business of living far more difficult, complex and frustrating. On every side prohibitions ring in the man who wishes to embark on creative work of any kind. Not one, but many licences and consents must be obtained from those set in authority over them.

The revolt against the condition which prevailed before this new regime, was induced by the natural desire to live and to live more fully. This urge to grow, to evolve, embedded in the very nature of all animate creatures will not be long denied. With mankind, however, this desire is not sufficient in itself. Human beings need to know how to fulfil it. If they would enjoy freedom they must recognize the limitations imposed upon them by the very nature of their being. They must admit in their lives that they are utterly dependent on the natural resources of the universe; that no man can live without labour; that each and every one acts only under the spur of his own desires. They must acknowledge these undoubted facts by acknowledging their duties to each other. They must not act so as to preclude each other from equal access to land; they must keep the land which they tenant in good condition for those who will come after them, they must not use their land in such a manner as to interfere with their neighbour's use of his land; they must live by their own labour, supporting the dependents they have taken upon them, and not live by the labour of others: they must allow everyone who fulfils his duties to pursue his own desires in his own way.

The duties which men owe to eachother in respect of land are fundamental to life in society. Other matters will fall to be discussed in the second part of this book which will enable the other duties to be more clearly defined. At this stage it is sufficient to define the rights and duties of a landholder as such.


The right of the individual to his full and proper wages cannot be seriously questioned. To enable him to secure it two things are essential, firstly he must have access to land, and secondly he must have security of tenure so that he may lay his plans ahead and enjoy the fruits of his effort.

At the same time, if the rights of his fellows are to be secured every landholder must duly pay the full rent of his land into the public fund and must maintain his land in good condition. Subject to these conditions he should have the right of access to any free land, and once he takes possession he should have security in the holding. This does not mean, of course, that every man will have five acres and a cow. In many occupations men require but little land. For very many a desk in an office or a bench in a factory is the total individual requirement. How much land is needed depends entirely on the nature of the industry.

With the twin obligations - of paying the full rent and keeping the land in good condition - attaching to landholding, no man would retain more land than he could usefully occupy. This would mean that in every country where this condition prevailed there would be an abundance of land of every kind available for use when required.

Not unnaturally, men would move to the land best suited for their own requirements. In England all those towns and smaller communities which the actions of land enclosing and of industrial monopolies have closed or drastically reduced would come back into their own. All the idle coal seams, tin and iron deposits, the timber land and agricultural land, the water power and other bounteous resources of this land which are now closed against use would become available. The operation of shutting down upon industries of every kind has driven men into the bigger cities in search of work and has caused these towns to sprawl out to a hieous size, despoiling vast tracts of country. The opening up of all idle land and the compelling of the full and adequate use of half-used land must reverse this process.

To the individual this would mean that he need no longer fear competition for work and would have a wide choice as to where and how to live. Under such conditions wages must rise until they have taken back all the wealth that is now taken by the speculative inflation of rent. Wages would further gain benefit from the improved production which must result. At the same time, the less valuable land would become open to all for the enjoyment of their leisure hours. There would be no more difficulties about green belts and open spaces. The best land would be used and used well, population would shift to those areas where natural resources were most inviting and a much more even distribution of the population must result.

A landholder has not merely his duties to the public to fulfil; he must also observe his obligations to his neighbours. A man's right to the full product of his labour can be denied if his neighbours' holding is used to the detriment of surrounding land. Clearly no-one should be permitted to use his land so as to prevent his neighbours from enjoying the full benefit of theirs. He must not, for instance, build a tannery in a residential district.

It is interesting to observe to what great extent the enforcement of the public right to rent will ensure that this does not happen. If a tannery is built in a residential area the value of the surrounding land will be very seriously reduced. This must mean a loss of rent to the public purse. If the Government requires the tannery owner to make good this loss he will very quickly close down. Indeed, with the fore-knowledge that this will be the inevitable result the tannery would never open.

This is an extreme case. A man may reduce the value of his own and surrounding land by an inappropriate or inadequate development. There are very many buildings in London today which actually reduce the value of the land on which they stand and adversely affect the neighbouring units. If such reduction of value were recovered as a matter of course by the Government, this would quickly stop inadequate or inappropriate development.

It is not being asserted that this measure of recovery from landholders of loss of rent caused by the use they make of their land would remove the necessity for other provisions to secure the best use of land. Clearly much is to be gained in urban areas from forethought in the laying out of streets, the creation of parks and recreation grounds, the disposition of public buildings and the development of transport and other public services. Other measures will readily spring to the mind of anyone who gives thought to the matter.

Were the rent collected by the authority, then, instead of improvements costing the taxpayer crippling sums, bad use of land would cost the authority the resulting loss of rent. The immediate financial interest of the public authority, therefore would impel it to do everything necessary to ensure that land was not so used as to detract from the efficiency and amenities of the district under its control.

Such a condition would immediately benefit all by preventing individuals in search of private gain from obstructing their neighbours in the full use and benefit of their holdings. More than this, it would ensure the maximum development of public services consistent with the requirements of those using them.

To sum up, the rights of the individual in respect of land are as follows:- First, he may have access on request to any vacant land subject to the fulfilment of his duties to pay the rent and maintain the land in good condition. For this purpose a land registry, such as the one now in existence, could be used and the holder's title to possession could be evidenced by a land registry certificate. Secondly, the landholder in possession may use his land as he pleases, provided he does not reduce its value or the value of the surrounding land or in any way cause a nuisance to his neighbours, and provided he conforms to the general regulations which the authority may make to secure that the possession of land is not abused. Thirdly, he may challenge the rent charged against him if the valuation does not conform to the principles laid down for its assessment, and he may have access to a land map showing the values set on all parcels of land for the current rent period. Fourthly, he may, by action in the Courts, restrain his neighbours from so using their land as to infringe his rights on his land. Fifthly, he may remain in possession of his land indefinitely except in those special cases where the public authority requires the land for one or other of the public services. Lastly, he will have an absolute property right in any improvement he makes in or puts upon his land. In the event of the public authority requiring his land for one of the public services, he shall be entitled to compensation for any improvements on his land at their full market value, and compensation for the cost to which he is put by moving to another site.

These principles would lay the foundation for real freedom which would extend to all members of the community. Life begins on the land, and unless a man's rights and duties in respect of land conform to the principles of justice, poverty and insecurity must result. As has been seen before, private property in land is a denial of the fundamental rights and duties of men in respect of land, but security of possession is an essential requirement for individual freedom. The citizen's home should be his castle, and his place of work should be free from invasion, provided always that he does not use these possessions to the damage of others.

Under such a condition there will be ample land of every kind to spare. Men can always find employment on land, and under such conditions unemployment could not exist. The struggle for work which holds wages down would cease and wages would rise to their true level, each man being able to demand his full value, that is to say, all that he could produce for himself as his own master on the best land open to use. Again, the speculation in land, which consists of the withholding of land, would be impossible. Quite contrary to the effect produced by the withholding of land, production would be maintained at its maximum. The result would be that those unhealthy booms engendered by restrictions in production could not take place and the industrial slump which must follow these booms would be a thing of the past. Yet again, the heavy and crippling burden of taxation which is now borne by industry would be unnecessary and could be removed. This in itself would cause a rise in production to the benefit of all.

These conditions would lay the foundation of a truly healthy society and would make possible the fulfilment of all the principles of justice which rest upon the fundamental truth that every man has an equal right to live. What further and other measures are necessary to secure to every man the full reward for his labour will be discussed in the second part of this book. This much, however, is certain - no other measures can be of avail where human relations in respect of land are based on false conceptions.

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