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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/345

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PROBLEMS OF PROPERTY.

it does so as a moral feeling which may be neglected with no legal penalty and often no social odium. The Duchess of Sutherland could banish the occupants from the estates which their ancestors had tilled for centuries, and convert the land into pastures, yet legal resource there was none. A sybarite Marquis of Hertford could live in Paris for thirty years together, with an income of ninety thousand pounds, and dismiss without a reply a deputation of his Irish tenants petitioning for assistance in building a much-needed railway. Could the original founders of the two families thus unworthily represented have treated their retainers and tenantry thus haughtily and unjustly, and not suffer for it? I think not. The rules of property, devised with a limited glance into future time, and with no expectation of the vast strides in population and wealth which the world has made during the past century, have had very awkward strains put upon them—strains which they were not originally expected or intended to bear. The rise of manufacturing towns and the drift of the rural population to the cities have conferred upon land-owners an immense multiplication of their fortunes, and made the incomes of many of them aggregate sums far beyond the legitimate demand of mortal, and this to the plain deprivation of the public.

Mark, too, the influence of the landlord in legislation. Note the privilege which attends his claims even in America.

In Great Britain in 1692 the tax on land was one fifth of its annual value, now it is about one fifth of that fraction. Landlords have thus grossly evaded their fair share of taxation. And note what horrid suffering and violences, often unpardonable, have been necessary to give Ireland such measure of land-reform as she enjoys to-day. The agitation against primogeniture and entail grows constantly in force in Great Britain, and the reform begun in Ireland and hastened there by differences in race and religion between landlords and tenants must of its justice spread to the sister island in time.

The complaint against property has, I think, been unduly directed against land, perhaps because land used to be the chief form of wealth. Real estate may present the most evident cases of abused privilege, but the main social difficulty, it appears to me, is the undue accumulation of wealth of any kind. The land of the world is certainly limited in quantity, but so are other forms of wealth: houses, mills, machinery, railways, and merchandise—all these, though vast in amount, are something short of infinite; and while land, as in America, is freely exchangeable for these other things, no special harm attaches to undue possession of it. And if it be said that these other things differ from land in that they can be indefinitely increased in amount, such an increase may be fairly compared with the settlement of barren territory in old countries, or of virgin soil in new. The forms of wealth other than land, while practically quite as limited in quantity, are quite as necessary to human life, so that, in their arguments against excessive