Frederic Clemson Howe.

Privilege and democracy in America online

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evil of monopoly charges and the inevitable conse-
quence from the trusting of so important a function
to private hands. This is an evil approved by law.

We have some means of knowing what the rail-
ways take in monopoly profits. That is shown by
their dividends. But we do not know what they
destroy. We have no means of knowing what the
productive power of the country would be were
the transportation agencies adjusted to the service
of the nation rather than to the service of the spec-
ulators of Wall Street. We cannot tell what would
be the effect upon the farmer and the manufacturer,
the jobber and the worker were railway management
concerned only with the convenience and comfort


of the community rather than with the making of
dividends. We cannot tell what the gain to the na-
tion would be were it not only freed from freight dis-
criminations and favors, but from the excessive
charges, and the desire for private advantage, which
now form the motives in the administration of the
highways of the nation. That can only be ascer-
tained when the railways become in fact, as they
are in legal theory, public carriers operated by the
government for the service of the community.



Just as, under the feudal regime, the first-fruits
of the field were taken by the lord of the manor
as a tribute of his lordship, so to-day the owners
of the land take from those who toil a tribute in
the form of rent as an evidence of the same servi-
tude. Ground-rent is the continuing badge of feu-
dal servitude; a servitude which has come down to
us from the dark ages when force ruled the world.
The worker of to-day differs from the serf of the
Middle Ages in the form of the payment. Rent
is the money equivalent of the personal services
of earlier days. But despite the change which
has taken place in the form of the tribute, the mass
of the people are still subject to the most costly
incidents which feudalism involved.

We are now in a position to measure the tribute
which must be paid to those who own the land.
That which we can see runs into the thousands of
millions of dollars each year. It exceeds by hun-
dreds of millions all of the taxes paid to the na-
tion, the states, and the cities. It equals the com-
bined labor of America's 16,000,000 men at three



dollars a day for at least fifty days in every year.
To-morrow it will be more than it is to-day. Long
before another generation passes it will be more
than doubled. For agricultural rent is just begin-
ning to grow. All land now has a monopoly value.
The rent to be paid must rise in consequence, for
rent is fixed by the demand for its use.

We have seen that the value of the land under-
lying the city of New York is $3,843,165,597. The
annual rent which its owners receive is not far
from $200,000,000. And this mine which under-
lies the city is inexhaustible. The treasure which
is taken out to-day in no way diminishes the treas-
ure which may be taken out to-morrow. Only
those who labor are the poorer because of its pay-
ment. They are carrying an annual burden greater
than the total interest charge on the national debt
at the close of the Civil War. And this is a charge
which is prior to all others. It is collected far
more accurately than are the taxes of government.
It must be met before any other activity is possible.
All of the people of the metropolis and, in a sense,
all of the people of America are subject to this
money tribute. It is exacted in the slum as it is
upon the avenue; it is collected from the office
building as it is from the tenement. It is a burden
upon all industry as it is upon all wages. It enters
into the cost of every commodity. It is the heav-
iest charge on the life of the people. Ground-rent


is the largest single item in the domestic budget
and it is all paid by labor.

It is the colossal land values of the city of New
York that drive up rents on the East Side; it is
the burden of rent that explains the 60,463 annual
evictions in the borough of Manhattan, and the
fact that one in every ten persons who die in New
York is buried at public expense in the potter's
field/ It is this that explains the thousands of
persons who nightly wait on lower Broadway for
a crust of bread. The rent charge of the metrop-
olis is equivalent to a per-capita burden of over
$50 per annum upon every man, woman, and child
in the city. It amounts to from $200 to $250 a

The wealth with which the ancient estates of
England are being rehabilitated is being wrung
from the sweated labor of the East Side of New
York. It is the labor of America that is endow-
ing colleges and universities and libraries. It is
from the meagre wages of the most destitute of
God's creatures that the privileged classes of Eu-
rope and America maintain themselves in luxury.
Everywhere and in every age private ownership
of the land means aristocracy. Everywhere, too,
it means poverty. Everywhere it means a more
relentless struggle for existence, and a constantly

' Poverty, Robert Hunter, pp. 24 and 25. The number of evic-
tions is for the year 1903.


falling standard of living and ultimate national

To-day all America and, in a sense, all of the
world, is paying tribute to the baronial owners of
the land which underlies the Empire City. At
a thousand dollars a year a man must work ten
full centuries to earn one million dollars. Ten
thousand men at such wages must work half a
lifetime to pay a single year's rent of the people of
New York. Two hundred thousand men from the
workers of the metropolis must work for ten long
years, ten hours a day, and three hundred days
every year to pay the annual incomes of the few
thousand men who own the land underlying the
city. The most ruthless Roman governors sent
out to govern her subject provinces enjoyed no
such colossal tribute, and worked no greater dev-
astation upon subject peoples than that which
is annually inflicted upon the free citizenship of
America's greatest city. No wonder the vestibule
of the new world presents a spectacle of degraded
poverty to the million immigrants who annually
crowd to America to escape from the burden of
landlordism in foreign lands.

That which is true of the city of New York is
true wherever mankind has come together in great
cities. The annual increment in the value of city
land has created and is creating fortunes whose
colossal proportions so far exceed the needs of their


owners that the annual excess is used for the pur-
chase of still greater holdings/

But rent is not limited to the agricultural tenant
or the slum dweller. It is paid upon the iron, the
coal, the oil, and the gas sites as well. Rent is the
annual value which arises from the superior ad-
vantages which one piece of land enjoys over an-
other. It may be a corner lot on Broadway, a
placer mine in distant Alaska, a lode of gold or
silver 10,000 feet above the sea in the Cripple
Creek regions. It may be a great deposit of Bes-
semer ore or of anthracite coal. The values which
the mineral lands enjoy are identical with the land

' In 1900 the value of the land in the city of Philadelphia amounted
to $978,259,355. (Bulletin of Bureau of Labor, January, 1904, p.
106.) At five per cent, per annum, this is equivalent to an annual
charge of $44,000,000. It is a burden of over $200 upon the backs
of every family of five in the city. In fifteen years' time the
land underlying the city increased in value by $291,545,527, or
at the rate of $19,500,000 per year. The value of the bare land
in the city of Boston, together with the franchises of the public
service corporations, amounted to $842,600,000 in 1902. For five
years the average per annum increase was $21,753,000, or three and
three-quarters million dollars more than the annual revenues of the
city. In nineteen years' time the land in San Francisco increased
$175,000,000 in value, or $9,218,254 a year. This was nearly four
millions a year more than the total taxes of the city. In the city
of Washington the minimum increase in the value of the land was
$10,000,000 a year, or $2,000,000 more than all of the expenditure
of the city. If the naked land underlying these cities is worth these
sums, it is because human labor is paying rent which is equivalent
to the customary rate of interest on capital. City by city the ex-
hibit is the same. The annual increase in the value of the land
alone exceeds all of the expenditures of the community. The
speculative increase in values might all be taken in taxes and still the
owners would be richer each year than they were the year before.


values of the country and the city. They spring
from no labor of the owner. They arise from no
skill of man. Only the necessities of humanity
give them a value, a value which increases with
every social activity. And the value which they
enjoy is a mortgage on labor, a mortgage as scru-
pulously collected as any government bond. The
capitalization of $800,000,000 placed upon the
iron-ore and coal lands of the Steel Corporation
is only possible because of the profits which the
trust may take from the people of America in the
form of rent. The franchises of the public service
corporations of the city of New York have a value
in the market of many hundreds of millions, only
because of the exclusive rights which they enjoy
upon the streets, rights which enable their owners to
collect from the labor of the metropolis from forty
to fifty million dollars a year in excess profits. If
the anthracite coal monopoly exacts from one to
two hundred million dollars a year from its con-
sumers in excess of the reasonable cost of producing
70,000,000 tons of coal, it is because the baronial
owners of north-eastern Pennsylvania have been
able to enclose one of the most precious sites on
the globe, a site which yields them a rental of this
amount every year.^ If the railways of the coun-

• In the days of free competition anthracite coal sold at from
$2.55 to $3.00 a ton at seaboard. — The Anthracite Coal Industry,
Roberts, p. 74. It now sells for twice the figure.


try are capitalized at from five to seven billions
more than their reasonable cost of construction, it
is because the labor of the nation in some form or
other is paying dividends upon that sum.

The gross earnings of the railways of America
have doubled in ten years' time. The roads need
only to provide the service for a need already ex-
isting. And the tribute which they collect is de-
termined by the same necessity that forces up
rents in the tenement districts of our cities. It is
fixed by what humanity will bear.^

It is not possible to know the value of the mineral
deposits, of the coal and the iron, the copper and the
oil, the gas, gold, and silver mines which are largely
owned by the same syndicates which control the
railways of the nation. We do know that the an-
nual value of the mineral production of America
amounted to $2,069,289,196 in 1907.== Neither
can we tell the amount of the tribute exacted by
the street railways and the gas, the telephone,

* In 1906 the gross earnings of the railways of the country were
$2,346,000,000. The net earnings from operation were $790,188,000.
While the operating expenses increased only nine per cent, for the
fiscal year, the net earnings increased over fifteen per cent. And it
is probable that if we knew all of the ramifications of the railway
business, all of the connections of railway directors with the ex-
press, the fast-freight, and the car lines; if we knew all of the hidden
means employed by these sympathetic agencies, we should find the
tribute imposed upon the nation by the owners of the highways in
excess of a fair return for the service performed, is not far from three-
quarters of a billion dollars a year.

2 The United States Geological Survey, special report, 1908.


electricity, and the water companies. The value
of the franchise corporations of the country is esti-
mated by the Census Bureau at $4,840,000,000.
It is probable that the tribute which they exact
in the form of rent for the sites which they oc-
cupy is from $200,000,000 to $400,000,000 a year;
while that of the mine-owners exceeds the latter

When we add together the site values of the cities,
the unearned values of agricultural land, the fran-
chise values of the railways, transportation, trans-
mission, and public-service corporations, when to
this is added the social value of all of the mineral
resources of the nation, we have a grand total of
social values of from forty to sixty billion dollars.
We cannot tell how much it may exceed this sum.
But from the investigations of the census, of the
Interstate Commerce Commission, of the Geolog-
ical Survey, and of city assessment records, we know
enough to be sure that the above estimate is low.
The unearned increment probably amounts to
$1,000 per capita for every man, woman, and child
in the country. This would give an aggregate
social value of over $80,000,000,000. The assessed
value of the land and the franchises alone in New
York City amounts to $980, and in Manhattan bor-
ough to $1,376 per capita. In Boston the assessed
value of the land and the franchises amounts to
$1,100 per capita. These values do not include


the railways and the mineral resources of the coun-
try, but only the values of the city sites.

Upon this colossal sum the labor of America is
paying rent of from three to four billion dollars a
year. It amounts to from forty to fifty dollars
per capita, and from two hundred to two hundred
and fifty dollars per family. It is collected in a
thousand different ways. It enters into the cost
of every commodity. It reduces the standard of
living of all classes. And this tribute is all paid
by labor; not by labor of the wage-earner alone,
but by the labor of the professional man, the teacher,
the capitalist, and manufacturer. Alike, they are
all despoiled by the landlord. For rent can come
from no other source than labor. From out the
annual income of the nation, the landlord is the
first claimant to be satisfied. He and hunger com-
pete in the annual division of the product.

It is the labor of America that is supporting the
idle rich in the capitals of the world. It is labor
paid in the medium of rent upon the coal and the
iron-ore deposits of the United States Steel Corpora-
tion that enables the cities of America to be dotted
with libraries, just as it is the rent for the oil, the
copper, and the gas deposits that enables Mr.
Rockefeller to promote philanthropy and endow
great universities.

All society is yoked to those who own the land,
who work not nor spin. It is not necessary that


they should work. For all mankind is working
for them. Nature herself, who brings forth from
each of its kind, labors for those whose income is
proportionate to the resources which they have en-
closed. Every useful activity adds in some way
to the unearned increment of the land which is
society's own product. The achievements of every
walk of life are passed on and on until they finally
lodge with those who have filled their strong-boxes
with title-deeds of ownership of the gifts of God to
all his creatures.

While poverty is explained by immigration, by
improvident marriages, by the Malthusian law of
population, by the drink evil, by the inequalities
in the endowments of men, the real cause is nearer
at hand. It is to be found in the burden of rent,
which is slowly, but none the less finally, appropri-
ating the surplus wealth of the people.

Among the mythological traditions of the ancient
Greeks is the story of a wise and wealthy king whom
the gods themselves delighted to honor. They per-
mitted him to dine with Zeus, who loaded him with
distinctions because of his wisdom. Yet the king
presumed upon his privileges and favors. Not
content with the honors which he enjoyed, he stole
the food reserved for the gods. In other ways he
transgressed the privileges of mortals. His crimes
finally gave such offence to the gods, that he was
condenmed to eternal punishment in Tartarus, a


vast and gloomy expanse far below Hades itself.
Here he was tortured by an ever-burning thirst.
He was plunged into water up to the chin. When
he sought to drink, the water receded from his
parched lips. He was consumed with hunger.
Just above him were tall trees; their spreading
branches laden with delicious fruits hung tempt-
ingly over his head. But no sooner did he raise
himself to seize them than a wind carried them
beyond his reach. Thus Tantalus lived within
easy reach of abundance with which to satisfy his
wants, condemned, by his own unwisdom, to eternal
hunger and thirst.

Free America, rich, wise, and endowed with re-
sources more ample than all the rest of the earth,
has ventured to violate the experience of all his-
tory and the teachings of all nature. She has
abandoned the resources with which she was en-
dowed to private monopoly.

Herein is the paradox of civilization; herein is
the explanation of increasing poverty with in-
creasing wealth; herein is the law of civilization
and decay. For whatever the exertion of the
worker, whatever the gains to production, they in-
evitably pass to those who own the soil. In time
the growth of population will lead men to offer
more than the land will produce for its use. They
will offer this as a stay of execution, just as a con-
demned criminal seeks a reprieve from a death


penalty which he knows to be inevitable. For the
increase in rent reduces the portion retained by
labor, until it becomes less than life itself demands.
Progressive impoverishment then sets in, and na-
tional decay results in national ruin.


But the increasing burden of rent is not the
only sacrifice which the private ownership of the
land involves. Private land ownership is to the pro-
duction of wealth what a ball and chain would be
to a runner, or a kedge anchor to a racing sloop.
We have no means of knowing how much wealth
would be produced were the land and its opportuni-
ties unlocked and opened up to labor.

As we have seen, the population of America is
but 28 to the square mile. This includes the thirty
odd millions who dwell in cities. The people of
Germany dwell 280 to the square mile, of France
188, and of contented Switzerland 218 to the mile.
Were America peopled as snugly as are these Euro-
pean countries, our population would range from
500,000,000 to 800,000,000 souls. Nor is this popu-
lation of ours made up of home-owners. As we
have seen, 35.3 per cent, of the farms of America
are worked by tenants, while only 54.9 per cent,
are free from some encumbrance or other. At the
same time over 200,000,000 acres are in the hands
of less than 50,000 persons, the average size of
whose holdings is 4,237 acres. This is one-fourth of



the total cultivated area of the country. It exceeds
the combined area of Great Britain and France.

These plantation estates are scattered all over
the West. Some of them exceed a million acres in
extent, and many of them exceed a hundred thou-
sand. They are held for speculation or grazing.
Those that are cultivated at all are worked by
hired men. These workers are cheaper than the
slaves of the plantation-owners of the South. They
come to the employer mature and able-bodied.
They involve none of the hazards of rearing or
purchase. When no longer efficient, when sick
or disabled, others are there to take their place.

It is land monopoly that limits the population
of a great part of the West to the ''hands" neces-
sary to cultivate the estates. It is land monopoly
that converts great prairie stretches, capable of
maintaining millions of men in comfort, to the
grazing of cattle. It is this that encourages the
least productive forms of agriculture, and involves
the consequent increase in the cost of all the neces-
sities of life.

That which is true of a great part of the West is
increasingly true of other sections of the country as
well. In the mountain regions of the Carolinas,
of Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky, in
Florida and in Virginia, the farmer is being driven
out by the Northern capitalist. Men whose grand-
fathers and great-grandfathers broke through from


the sea-coast, in the seventeenth and eighteenth cen-
turies, are selHng their holdings at an insignificant
price to speculators, who are denuding the moun-
tain-sides of the forests, who are holding great
areas out of use because of the mineral resources
deposited in them, or are developing them as private
estates. Men who now work these forest preserves,
or labor in the mines, were once their owners.
Where formerly there was industrial freedom,
now there is industrial servitude. Others have
gone to the towns, where they quickly dissipate
the insignificant sums received for their holdings.
In the mill regions of the South one finds the chil-
dren of these small farm-owners at work in the
cotton mills. Many of them not yet in their teens
work from ten to fourteen hours a day. Here they
become aged before their time, the victims of dis-
ease and of unsanitary surroundings. Here they
labor in great numbers from early morn till late
at night, and from early youth to the grave, in the
fetid atmosphere of the Southern mill.

It is very generally assumed that ownership of
the land is necessary to efficient production. A
little reflection will show that this is not true. The
right to own the product has nothing whatever to
do with the right to own the land. Society would
not hold together for a season did it not assure to
him who ploughed the ground and made it ready
for the harvest the right to enter on the fields and


gather the crops. It is assurance of a right to the
product that stimulates production, a stimulus that
is wanting to an increasing percentage of agricult-
ural workers of America who form the tenant

Were one of our acquaintances to erect a pa-
latial residence in the heart of the city; were he to
gather together from every quarter of the world
the works of art and refinement; were he to fill it
with the most costly plate and the most beautiful
Gobelin tapestry; were he to line its walls with
marble from the famous quarries of Carrara, and
its polished floors with Persian rugs; were he to
prepare a house as if for a princess, and then turn
it over to his hounds as a kennel, a commission
of lunacy would be appointed by his friends, and
the control of his property would be taken from

Yet America has done far worse than this. En-
dowed with land for many times our present popu-
lation, we have closed that opportunity against
ourselves. We are repeating the most colossal mis-
takes of history. Just as the highlands of Scot-
land, which produced the hardiest of Great Brit-
ain's people, have been cleared of humanity to
make sheep farms and hunting preserves for the
aristocracy, so a large part of America has been
parcelled out into great plantations owned by cor-
porations and individuals. Speaking of the ''clear-


ances" of Scotland, the British scientist, Alfred
Russel Wallace, says:

''The motive for these clearances is usually to
obtain a larger or securer rental for the land, either
as sheep farms or as deer forests; and for this pur-
pose tens of thousands of British subjects have
been driven from their homes, often to swell the
mass of indigence and crime in the great cities, while
the country is being denuded of a hardy, industrial,
moral, and intelligent population to which our army
has been indebted for men and officers who, in India
and elsewhere, have done the noblest deeds, and
added to the nation's roll of fame. Such clearances
are a deep injury to the state and a positive crime
against humanity, of the same nature (though less
in degree) as despotism or slavery. Yet they are
legal ; and no power exists which can prevent them,
so long as the land, without which no man could live,
is allowed to be monopolized by the rich." *

That which is true of Scotland is true of England

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Online LibraryFrederic Clemson HowePrivilege and democracy in America → online text (page 10 of 19)