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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/189

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EARNED DECREASE VS. UNEARNED INCREMENT.

THE EARNED DECREASE VS. THE UNEARNED INCREMENT.
By JOEL BENTON.

READERS of Henry George's empiric philosophy have been told—and his acolytes peddle out the platitude with much phrasing and infinite iteration—that society is greatly wronged by something which he calls an "unearned increment." This un-earned increment is a thing which all property, personal as well as real (if you except cash in hand and some of its exchange equivalents), is subject to. It may heap itself just as vigorously upon a dozen eggs or a bucket of soap as it does upon a piece of land. The increment arises, too, from some want or movement of society. But this habit which property has doesn't trouble these millennium-makers and poverty-extinguishers. It is only a subject for complaint, in their view, when it touches a piece of land.

The stock sample of the injustice they inveigh against is the rise in value of a town lot. In fact, you can not get the mind of a Georgeite off from a town lot. He pitches his tent there; and if, for any reason, he strays briefly away, when you are not talking to him, to the open country, a word of opposition to his whim will send him back flying to that magic foothold. One would suppose, if the fury with which he thrashes the air were really evidence, that nobody ever bought a town lot or a plot near a city who did not at once ride into a fortune by its buoyancy, or else reap a happy sum which, in equity, belongs not to him, but to everybody collectively. But the whole doctrine of Georgeism is a strange perversion of, not only political economy, but of the exact truth of the matter in hand. The history of land-ownership of all kinds everywhere is as strikingly a history of losses as it is of profits. We see the successes, as we see the ships which float on the ocean, while the unnumbered wrecks in both cases are out of thought and beyond vision.

At one time in the history of St. Paul, Minn.—to make one instance stand for a multitude—only two or three men could comfortably hold their real-estate purchases. All the rest who had investments were not only glad to give away the hope of increment, but were willing to give up all, and often more than they gave to purchase their holdings, to be freed from the debt on them. In fact, a universal bankruptcy and panic prevailed among all who owned land. It is not an uncommon circumstance to find, too, that those who buy city realty, and hold it any length of time, although the increment may seem very large, have paid