Frederic Clemson Howe.

Privilege and democracy in America online

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excluded from investigation. Preferment is closed
to those who look too closely into the cause of
existing conditions. The daily press is even more
openly controlled. Editorial discussion is for the
most part commonplace, while the news columns
are made to mirror the will of the counting-room.
News and telegraphic agencies are controlled with
the same end in view, while at Washington and in
the capitals of our states subsidized news and plate-
matter bureaus are maintained which feed the
rural papers with matter favorable to the interests
which support them.

The metropolitan press as well as that of the
larger inland cities is largely owned by the franchise
corporations or other interests, or is subjected to


such pressure through its advertising patrons that
it is muzzled. This fact is admitted by many
editors who deplore it. The Philadelphia North
American asserts that the press of America is no
longer to be trusted. It says:

''The influence for real, patriotic, right thinking
exerted by the daily newspapers of America was
dwindling almost to the degree of degeneracy.
. . . The world's strongest people are sinking
into subserviency to a sordid power, only because
the people were being served by a press that was
worse than subsidized, a press that had become
enslaved. . . . The predatory interests were not
slow to estimate how easily they could control
certain newspapers by the granting or the with-
drawal of profits. From the allotment of official
printing in the cities to the appointment of an able
and, therefore, a dangerous man in the town to be
pastmaster, by grace, of a corrupt state machine,
the system has been the same.

''Debauchery has come from many an angle.
The same bankers, suppliant to Wall Street, are the
ones from whom favors were asked by newspaper
managers, cramped financially, to keep pace with
modern development. Volumes instead of brief
comment could be written concerning pressure
brought to bear by railroads, the liquor traffic, the
poisoners of food and medicines, the promoters of
swindling mining and other stock schemes.

"But two things above all others stand out as
factors in the lessening of the influence of the daily
press: The first is the purchase of newspapers by
rich men utterly destitute of any comprehension of
the right function of journalism. Jay Gould failed


in his attempt at this sort of prostitution of pubHc
opinion. From Huntingdon in CaUfornia, to Mor-
gan and Behnont in New York, and from 'Fingy'
Connors in Buffalo, to Ohver in Pittsburg, we have
only too many proofs that the plan now succeeds."

It is by ownership, by advertising coercion, by
the distribution of official printing, by the control
of the news agencies, but most of all by the coercive
power of the banks, to which the newspaper of the
day must go, that the making of news as well as
the public opinion which emanates from the press
has passed into the hands of the predatory class.
They not only make or mar the career of political
leaders who are inimical to privilege, they distort
and color the facts which take place. As the North
American sa5^s, when the newspaper ceased to be
an agency of enlightened public opinion a new
agency arose to take its place. The weekly and
monthly magazine has become the tribune of fear-
less speech.

And just as the economic interests of the ascendant
class mould the ethics of an age, so the same economic
interests mould our outlook on the past. History
is written by men from the same class which makes
the public opinion of to-day. Their standards of
right and wrong are those of the class to which they
belong. It is for this reason that history is blind,
just as are the law and contemporary opinion, to the
crimes which have been committed against hu-


manity. The eye of research is closed to the great
social forces which underlie the decay of nations and
the destruction of liberty by the aggressions of the
privileged orders. We read the chronicles of Greece,
of Rome, of Spain, or of Great Britain almost in vain
for any guidance in the solution of the menacing
problems which confront the twentieth century.
Like the science of political economy, history stops
short at the interpretation of social movements.
The science of history awaits some great mind like
that of Darwin to construct from out the neglected
records of the past the evolution of the economic
foundations of society. When that has been done we
shall see that the great crimes of history, like those
of the present day, are not those upon which the
historian dwells. The great crimes across the face
of Christendom are those which have enjoyed every
sanction which the law could give. They were
environed, just as they are to-day, with every ap-
proval which respect could add. They were achieved
so quietly that the voice of protest was stilled. Yet
the effects of these crimes linger on from generation
to generation, even from century to century.

When we see history in its real perspective, it will
be apparent that the great crimes of every age have
been committed through legislation. They will be
found carefully written upon the statute books of
the age. They are the crimes of an ascendant class
in control of the government, making use of that


control for the impoverishment of their peoples.
When history is so written, we shall see that the ser-
vitude, the poverty, the famines, and the ruthless
destruction of peoples is the product of law. We
need not go back to the Roman senate, to the
privileged orders in France, to the crimes against
Ireland by the landlords of England, for proof of
this statement. Confirmation may be found in the
law-made crimes of America, as well as of Europe,
to-day. For law is the handmaiden of absolutism
just as it is of freedom, of endless wars as well as of
peace, of slavery as well as of liberty, of decadence,
as well as of splendor. Through privileges created
by law untold millions have died of starvation.
Through privileges created by law untold millions
are suffering from starvation and disease in America
to-day. Through class-made law civilization has
been set back centuries in its growth, while liberty,
the liberty that involves the economic as well as
the political freedom of the individual, has all but
disappeared from the face of the Western world.


How may all this be altered? How can the land
be opened up to use by those who desire it, how
can monopoly be destroyed, the burden of rent be
reduced, the cost of living be brought down, and the
opportunities for labor and capital increased? |Iow
can the gains of civilization be made to serve all
mankind instead of a diminishing few? How can
want and the fear of want be abolished from the
earth, and justice, equality, and plenitude be in-
sured to all?

There are two and only two solutions of the
social problem which confronts the civilized world.
One is industrial socialism. The other is industrial
freedom. From the time of Plato down to Karl
Marx men have dreamed of Utopias, based upon a
society consciously organized, and controlling the
agencies of production and distribution for the com-
mon welfare. In every age, too, men have painted
pictures of the alternative of industrial freedom;
of the society which would result from the abolition
of class-made laws and legalized privilege. The
most eminent of the latter were the French philoso-



phers of the eighteenth century, of whom Quesnay,
Turgot, Gournay, and the elder Mirabeau were the
most brilliant. It was Henry George, however, who
discovered the means by which industrial liberty
could be secured; it was he who evolved a philosophy
as complete as socialism itself. It is this alternative
of industrial freedom I propose to consider.

If the previous analysis of the economic founda-
tions of America no less than of Europe is correct,
the unjust distribution of wealth, the misery and
much of the vice and crime of to-day are the products
of man-made laws. Organized government itself
has created the Frankenstein monster of the social
problem. And if these evils are the result of law,
obviously they can be corrected by the same agency
that created them. They can be corrected by free-
dom. Nature is as jealous of her methods as she is
of her laws. And the law of nature is the law of

Liberty involves no complicated organization of
society, no bureaucracy, no increase in the func-
tions of the state. Liberty involves rather repeal;
it involves the abolition of the privileges which have
been created by Congress, the state legislatures, and
city councils. It involves the freedom to buy and
sell where one wills; the freedom of the highways
and the freedom of access to the resources of nature.
Freedom involves the razing of all tariff walls, and
the abolition of all excise and internal revenue taxes


on trade, industry, and commerce; it involves the
ownership of the railways and the means of trans-
portation by the people, and the abandonment of all
taxes on labor and labor products, and the nation-
alization of the land through taxation.

This is the philosophy of the single tax, of the
taxation of land values, as it is called in England,
first proposed by Henry George. He did not lay
claim to its discovery. He found it in the writings
of the French physiocrats, in the teachings of
Moses, as well as in the all but universal experiences
of early peoples.

The simplicity of this proposal delays its accept-
ance. Yet any one who will follow the forces which
would be released by such legislation will acquire
a philosophy of life as adequate as that of socialism
itself. He will find in it ajajw of perfect justice in
human society, a law which insures to the worker
to-day, to-morrow, and forever, equality with his
fellows and an assurance of the full product of his
toil. He will find a means by which monopoly will
be destroyed and industrial liberty re-established;
he will discover a means to terminate the present
unjust distribution of wealth. This remedy, too, is
sanctioned by all that science teaches us of the laws
of evolution; it is sanctioned by a thousand proofs
of history and contemporary society, as well as by
the precepts of justice and Christianity. It is a
solution that relies upon the known instincts of


humanity, and accords with all of the traditions
of American democracy.

In a quarter of a century the taxation of land
values has become social philosophy to millions of
men in every corner of the civilized world. It is
the inspiration of the political movements in a
dozen states and cities, and in a limited sense is the
political programme of the Liberal party in Great
Britain. It is a philosophy which divides the world_
with the followers of Socialism, and in its final
analysis is a gospel of liberty and pure democracy.

The remedy which is here proposed is open to
adoption by the simplest of changes. It involves
no violent alteration in the machinery of government
or the organization of the state, no violent break
with that with which we are familiar, no departure
from the traditions of the functions of government,
no bureaucracy or centralized control over the life
or activity of the individual. There would be no
new machinery; rather much that is now necessary
would become obsolete. There would be an end of
oaths, of jurats, of inquisition, and of perjury in

This philosophy of freedom may not be apparent
at a glance. It does not appeal to the imagination
as does the philosophy of socialism. But those who
will apply the known laws of evolution to social and
industrial conditions and will study the development
of society in every new country where access to


the land is open to all, or the history of the nations
of Europe down even to the present day, will find in
the freedom which would result from this proposal
a social philosophy as adequate to the problems of
to-day as any ever offered by the Utopian dreams of
the past.

Under this proposal the state would become the
universal rent collector. It would step into the
shoes of the ground landlord. There would be no
land rent. It would all be absorbed in taxes. In
other words, society would assume what society
itself had created, and in so doing, would leave free
from molestation all that the individual created.
There would be no other taxes and there would be
need of none.

When all of the rent was so appropriated the
land would be socialized. It would have no capital
or selling value. It would become the common

property of the nation, subject only to an annual
rental charge. With this established, the earth
would be opened up to use by all. Then opportunity
would call from every quarter. Then the demand
for labor would transcend the labor supply, and the
worker would be able to command the full product
of his toil. Then society would be free from the
burdensome taxes on consumption and exchange
which now impoverish it, while trade and commerce
would be free to follow their natural channels.
Then an era of freedom would arise the like of


which the world has never known, a freedom in which
no man could live by the sweat of another's face and
no man could levy tribute on his neighbor by law.
Then there would be equality of opportunity for all,
an equality in which the natural instincts of man
to justice and righteousness would have full play.
Then from each according to his privileges, and to
each according to his labor, would be the rule of life.

The city of New York could commence this reform
in all its essentials by a law of but few sentences in
length. It could socialize a large part of its three and
a half billions of land values by the abandonment
of all taxes now assessed against houses, buildings,
improvements, and personal property, by permitting
the whole burden of local taxation to fall upon
land values. All of the machinery for carrying this
programme into execution already exists. The city
now assesses its land at its full value and it assesses
it every year. It separates improvement values from
land values. New York as well as Boston has dem-
onstrated that land can be valued more easily and
far more accurately than any other form of wealth.*

With the tax on land values increased by the

' When the taxation of land values was first proposed it was urged
that the proposal was impractical, because it was impossible to value
land separately from improvements or to ascertain what was the
unearned increment. A dozen states and cities have demonstrated
that land can be easily and accurately valued, and the annual reports
of the assessing officers of New York and Boston have furnished
startling evidence of the colossal values which society has given to a
few of its members.


abandonment of other taxes, ground rents would
fall. So would the value of the land. In time the
$200,000,000 of rent, now paid to a handful of
owners, would be paid to the community that created
it. As the taxes were increased the value of the
land would disappear. Ultimately it would become
in effect the property of the city. New York would
be the richest landlord in the world. By this simple
process it would have socialized one-half of the
wealth of the city.

Into its treasury there would flow an annjaal
income of $250,000,000, instead of $160,000,000 as
it is to-day. For already forty per cent, of the
taxes of New York, or about $60,000,000, are taken
from rent. From out this increasing treasure a
city could be erected whose magnificence would
surpass anything the world has known. By means
of it the city could operate, without cost to the
consumer, the services of transit, light, heat, and
power, the owners of which services now share with
the owners of the land the unearned increment of
the city. The city could develop a traction policy
and distribute its population far out into the country-
side. A conscious housing and transportation policy
could be evolved, as far in advance of that which
private monopoly has given us as the ocean grey-
hound is in advance of the cattle-ship or the auto-
mobile is superior to the stage-coach. Light, heat,
and power could be supplied in the same way, at


no cost at all, were these services under public con-
trol as they should be. For these are the arteries
of municipal life. They are as essential a part of
the public body as the nervous system is a part
of the human body. Modern city life is impossible
without them. They can only be properly man-
aged when the idea of private profit is subordinate
to the idea of service. Even to-day public admin-
istration is more responsive to public opinion than
private administration. In time the common-
wealth will become far more intelligent than pri-
vate capital. This is already true wherever the
interest of privilege coincides with the interest of
the community. This superiority is apparent in
the magnificent docks which have been erected
about the city of New York, as well as in the splen-
did school-houses and libraries and public struct-
ures which adorn the metropolis. It is apparent
in the workmanship of river and harbor improve-
ments, in the construction of a great battle-ship, or
the building of the Panama Canal by the nation.
Wherever privilege desires efficiency the govern-
ment is efficient. And when the government is free
from the corrupting influence of big business, when
it turns its attention to the conscious aim of serving
democracy, we shall find that ability, talent, and
genius will serve the state far more ardently than
it ever served for private hire.
We need not wait for evidence of the fact. It


may be seen in the high sense of honor and intelli-
gence of the War and Navy Departments, as well
as in the world of science, where men labor in the
service of truth for the most insignificant pay and
for scant recognition. We see it in our universi-
ties and our schools, even in the fire departments
of our cities, where, unnoticed and unrecorded, men
go willingly into the face of death merely for the
sake of protecting another man's property.

We have only begun to make use of government
as an industrial agency. We are only beginning to
see that private property must be subordinated to
humanity. On every hand it is apparent that the
activities of the government must be increased and
that they can be used for the service of the many,
just as they are now used for the service of the few.
Old political formulas are changing. The state is
rapidly becoming an economic as well as a political
agency. From now on this tendency must in-
crease at an accelerated pace. And the services
which the community could render its people, from
out the as yet untouched common treasure, would
of themselves relieve the most serious wants of
modern society. For poverty can be relieved by
increasing the free services of society as easily as
privilege can be created by the passage of tariff
laws, by railway privileges, and franchise grants.
It is only a question of the class in control of the
government and the motives which animate it.


This then is the proposal : That all of the revenues
of the government shall be raised from a tax upon
the value of the land; that all other forms of taxa-
tion shall be abandoned; that trade, industry, and
commerce shall be free from any interference by the
state, and the products of labor shall exchange with
each other without let or hindrance of any kind.
Here there shall be but one tax, and that shall be
levied upon the value of the land which society
itself has created, until all rent shall have been
taken by the people for their common use and enjoy-

Let us examine this proposal. Is it just? This
test must be met by any proposal of social read-
justment. For injustice can only be corrected by
justice. There is, of course, the political sanction of
salus populi suprema est lex. Taxation has always
been used to promote a social policy. The tariff
and excise taxes have been imposed in the name of
national well-being. During the Civil War state
bank-notes were taxed out of existence in the interest
of a sounder banking policy. We have no hesita-



tion in destroying millions of dollars of property,
innocently invested in the brewery and distilling
business, in the name of social well-being. We have
discouraged the manufacture and sale of oleomarga-
rine in the interest of a class and at the expense
of those who consume. And the taxation of land
values may be justified by the same sanction of
the welfare of the state. Measured by the standard
of conventional political justice it is perfectly

There is, however, a higher sanction, the sanction
of absolute justice. And absolute justice requires
that society shall protect its members in the enjoy-
ment of that which they produce. That is the first
obligation of government. But no such protection
is offered to those whose labor creates the increased
land values. The presence of each one of us upon
the earth creates a value which is appropriated by
another. Each individual is compelled to pay trib-
ute for that which is really his own.

And there is but one way by which this social
value can be retaken. And that is by taxation.
For this reason the taxation of land values is the
reverse of confiscation. It is exact justice. It re-
turns to society that which society produces, and
leaves free from taxation that which the individual
by his efforts creates.

This then is the natural source of revenue, as
providentially provided as the manna of heaven


was provided for the Hebrew people. It exists in
abundance for every social need. It increases with
the growing needs of society and the complexity of
modern life.

But the taxation of land values is least of all a
financial measure. That is but incidental to a
larger social ideal. It is not the revenues society
would receive, it is the wealth which would spring
into existence and its just distribution that is impor-
tant. We could well afford to throw all of the rent
of the land into the sea if that were the only means
by which industrial freedom could be secured. For
the taxation of land values will insure freedom, it
will create a society in which the production of
wealth will be greatly increased, while the share of
each will be justly determined.

Let us follow the effects of this shifting of the
whole burdens of taxation onto land values. Its
first effect would be to discourage land speculation.
The owner could no longer sit idly on his holdings
and wait for society to make them valuable. He
would have to put the land to its most productive
use or sell it to some one who would. There would
be an economic motive urging production rather
than idleness. With the tax increased to three,
four, or five per cent, this pressure would be in-
creased. And surely society owes nothing to him
who merely monopolizes that which all men want
and which all men must have to live. As the


present Chancellor of the Exchequer of England,
Mr. Lloyd George, said, in defence of the land-tax
clause of the British budget introduced in 1909:
*'If the speculator wants to remain a dog in the
manger, he must pay for his manger."

Under such a pressure land would be forced into
the market. Owners would seek, tenants, occu-
piers, workers. Houses would be erected on vacant
building sites. Mines, quarries, and plantations
would be worked to their capacities. The land
would invite men instead of repelling them. Op-
portunity would spring up on every hand.

Land values would fall in consequence. The
competition of sellers would bring this about. In-
stead of men competing for land, the land would
compete for men. The present economic interest
of the speculator would be reversed. Another influ-
ence would accelerate the movement. A tax upon
the products of labor increases their cost. The tax
enters into the price. It is paid by the consumer.
A tax on land values, on the other hand, reduces the
cost of land. It is deducted from the rent. As
rent falls so does the price of land, for capital value
is but the reflection of earning power. Economists

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Online LibraryFrederic Clemson HowePrivilege and democracy in America → online text (page 16 of 19)