portions of the earth’s surface, but when and where did there exist the human being who had the right?”
Nor shall we find any ground for doubting the soundness of George’s deduction if we place by the side of it the reasons which are offered in defence of the existing institution. Those reasons are summed up, very tersely, by Prof. W. G. Sumner, as follows: “The reason for allowing private property in land is, that two men cannot eat the same loaf of bread. If A has taken a piece of land, and is at work getting his loaf out of it, B cannot use the same land at the same time for the same purpose. Priority of appropriation is the only title of right which can supersede the title of greater force.” Force may be laid out of account altogether, for no one can base a title of right upon it alone without admitting that mere force, whether of ballots or of bullets, can to-day rightfully wipe out existing titles and confer others in their stead. Priority of occupation is a mere straw of barely sufficient weight to turn balanced scales; how little it counts against such considerations as George adduces will be seen if we suppose a man owning a farm to die intestate leaving a son, X, who, as heir-at-law, takes full possession of the farm; in a month or so a posthumous son, Y, is born; clearly X’s prior occupation of the farm gives him no right to exclude Y from it. It is doubtless true, as Prof. Sumner says, that while one man is getting his loaf out of a piece of land another man cannot use the same land at the same time for the same purpose. The difficulty with this, as an explanation or justification of the legal institution of private property in land, is that it does not explain or justify. “Private property in land,” as the phrase is used by Prof. Sumner, has a very different signification from what it has in the mouths of lawyers and judges. In his sense of the words there would be private property in land if George’s plan were followed. But the existing legal institution means that one man and his heirs and assigns, without doing anything whatever, may perpetually exact a part of the loaves which other men by their labor get out of the land. It means the holding of land out of use in anticipation of increase of population and increased general need for land. It means that one man may own a thousand-fold more land than he can by possibility use, and may, if he please, exclude all others therefrom. It means the Irish
- “Progress and Poverty,” Book Ⅶ., chap. ⅰ.
- “Social Classes,” etc., p. 61.