Open main menu

Page:Harvard Law Review Volume 1.djvu/354

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

priation of other things. When the land in a given community is entirely taken up by others, a landless man cannot do anything individually. Let us see how it would be if he had land and nothing else. He could build no fire, for he would be without fuel. If Mr. Clarke says that fuel would be part of the land, he must say that private property in fuel is unjust. He could obtain no food, shelter, or clothing, — unless he were to dig a hole with his fingers and crawl into it. He might, indeed, exchange his land for other things, but that would not be acting individually. But, Mr. Clarke says, the appropriation of land interferes with the exertion of one’s natural powers, while the appropriation of other things does not, because the supply of land is limited, while to the supply of other things there is no limit, or no known limit, if the land, which is the source of supply, be not monopolized. If Mr. Clarke had said “limited” instead of “monopolized” his sentence would have been true, though axiomatic. As it is now, Mr. Clarke asserts that an unlimited amount of products can be obtained from a limited source of supply. The State of Rhode Island, if the land were not monopolized, could feed the world! Mr. Clarke admits that it is beyond man’s power to create matter. That being so, what can be more of a truism than the fact that if the supply of land be limited, the supply of the products of that land will be limited also? Surely in this there can be no distinction between land and things other than land. Nor can such a distinction be drawn. The truth is that all this world contains is, or once has been, land. The stones and bricks which compose our buildings we called land when they lay in the quarries and clay beds. The coal in the stove, and the iron of which the stove is made, were land when in the mines. The wood of the table, the linen that covers it, and the bread, fruit, and vegetables, as well as the dishes from which we eat, were all called land within a longer or shorter period of time. At what moment did they cease to be land and become the rightful subjects of property? When first separated from the soil? Henry George himself characterizes the lawyer’s distinction of things movable and things immovable as “unphilosophical.” “The real and natural distinction,” says he,[1] “is between things which are the produce of labor, and things which are the gratuitous offerings of nature.” But labor can create nothing, and land upon which labor has been expended in clearing and cultivation is as much the “produce of labor” as the stones that make up a church. In each case labor has been expended in changing the form of the “gratuitous offerings of nature” and nothing more has happened. Why, then, should not the land be as properly the subject of private property as the stones?

But to say that all men are not entitled to equal portions of the earth’s surface is not to say that there are some men who are not entitled to land at all, and should therefore be cast into the sea, any more than to say that because all men are not entitled to equal shares of the earth’s produce there are some men who should be left to starve. The right to property is subordinate to the right to life, and as, when a city is besieged, those who have more provisions must share with those who are not so well supplied; so when the supply of land becomes so scant that the right to life comes into conflict with the right to property, the inferior right must yield. The following illustration will, perhaps, better show my meaning: A man has ordinarily the right to keep