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Page:Harvard Law Review Volume 1.djvu/288

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the land-value tax is very apt to assume the form, and, if one may judge from current criticism, is quite generally understood to have the form, that because the value of land increases without effort on the part of the landholder as the community grows, therefore the community has earned such value, and may justly take it for common purposes. In that form the argument is fallacious beyond question. The value of land is its relation as to exchange to the other things which men desire. How can such a relation give rise to an obligation to pay money? Chattels fluctuate in value as well as the land, and for similar causes, increase being without merit as decrease is without fault on the part of their owner; and for this one need look no farther than to the daily quotations of corporate stocks, though other illustrations without number might be given. The truth is that a claim upon the value of land can be substantiated only by first successfully impeaching the title of its occupant. Grant that the land is his property, and necessarily he is entitled to it at any particular time, that is, he has a right to exchange it at that time for other things, if he will and if he can, and it is nobody’s business whether he receives for it upon exchange many other things or few, much money or little; if he actually make an exchange, no other person, not even the State, as representative of all the rest of the community, can thereby acquire a right to take toll out of what he receives; still less can a right to exact money arise, because he might have made an exchange if he had wished to. But if the land is not his, if others have as good a right to it as he has, and he is suffered to have the exclusive occupancy and use of it, then he ought in justice to make compensation to such others, and the question is, how much?

Land has no value when and where equally desirable land can be had by every man who wants it. But land varies greatly in fertility, accessibility, and, generally, in desirableness. Hence, if many want it they will pay money to get the better quality rather than put up with the poorer quality. They can afford to do so up to a sum which, subtracted from what they can make from the better land, leaves a remainder equal to the gross return they would receive for the same expenditure if they took the poorer land without paying anything. The sum that can thus be paid measures the value of the better land. When all accessible land is taken up, and, through increase of population or otherwise, more is wanted, then all land