Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/352

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
340
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and poor. In his distant State he has seen land taken up by speculators and held untilled for years, that it might advance in value by immigration—settlers by such action being far too widely scattered for their private good or the general welfare of the State. Taking the ground of natural right, and following Quesnay and others, Mr. George declares that except in the improvements due to labor no man can have a valid title to any part of the earth's surface. He therefore proposes a tax on real estate which shall be equal to its rental as unimproved land. In defense of this virtual confiscation in its results, he declares his opinion to be that his tax would render any other unnecessary, so that, in exemption from duties and other government levies, property holders would receive a considerable palliative for the loss caused them by his discovery of the invalidity of their titles. The owners of town and city lots whereon buildings exist, and owners of improved farms, would retain the whole value of buildings and improvements, so as to be left with a large proportion of their former wealth. Objections bristle on all sides against Mr. George's proposal. First, he takes no note of the pretty general diffusion of real estate among the American people, property which all except a few of the whole population regard as real and substantial in a special sense. The confiscation of land, in past years freely exchangeable for other property and not generally held to-day by the enjoyers of very much unearned increment, would be resented by the common sense of the people; and the conscience of the needy classes, once weakened as to the validity of the tenure of one kind of property, might, under pressure of want in a commercial panic, indiscriminately attack all.

Most of us feel that the millionaires have too much even for their own good, yet any confiscation which might begin by depleting plethoric purses might end by larceny from very slender ones; and a movement ostensibly begun on grounds of public justice might, by additions of envy and the spirit of common theft, degenerate into wholesale pillage. Besides, how could a government like that of the United States be trusted with so vast and difficult a business as assessing all the land within its borders at its value—that is, at its market price, minus improvements? But the injustice of unearned increment in land remains with us still, and makes us wish that in America, on original settlement, the leasing for. long terms had been established instead of absolute sale or gift by the Government; and also directs attention to the advisability of taxing the increase of value in land due to advancing population, say to the extent of one half such increase, in cases of depreciation just rebate being made. Some perception of the evils which Mr. George has beheld and would endeavor to correct, led a few years ago to the forming in Melbourne, Australia, of a land reform society, which intended to urge on the Government the plan of leasing its lands instead of selling them to men who were reproducing in the colony some of the worst features of the English land