Bolton Hall, "The Land Question and Economic Progress," The Arena, XXIV, 6 (December 1900), 645-8.
ON THE STOA OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY.
THE LAND QUESTION AND ECONOMIC PROGRESS.
By BOLTON HALL.
Q. Mr. Hall, as one who has made a study of the single tax, do you believe that it would prove an efficient remedy for reducing uninvited poverty to a minimum?
A. Henry George says that, by taking the rental value of land for the public, “the great cause of the present unequal distribution of wealth would be destroyed, and that one-sided competition would cease which now deprives men who possess nothing but power to labor of the benefits of advancing civilization, and forces wages to a minimum, no matter what the increase of wealth. Labor [each man for himself, or oftener in combinations], free to the natural elements of production, would no longer be incapable of employing itself, and competition, acting as fully and freely between employers as between employed, would carry wages up to what is truly their natural rate—the full value of the produce of labor—and keep them there.”
Q. What do you think of the influence that it would have ethically on society?
A. Ethical progress must be the progress of the race. The progress of the race needs opportunity for development, and the first requirement for this is the use of the resources of Nature. Denial of this use perverts our whole social system, and all share in the perversion, which makes fellowship impossible: since we are all either receivers of rent of land—that is, thieves—or payers of rent of land—that is, abettors of thieves. Equal use of the land would enable us to live for one another instead of on one another.
Q. What do you think in regard to the contention that the taxation of land values only would favor the accumulation of wealth on the part of those who hold bonded securities and prove oppressive to the land holders or owners?
A. We think that justice would “favor the accumulation of one’s own wealth,” if any one cared to accumulate what he could get at will. “‘Bondholders,’ however,” says Louis F. Post, “are, in the main, themselves the landowners; for a bond is usually the first title to some interest in land, such as a railroad franchise. It could not, therefore, both favor and oppress them. Further, it could not be oppressive to landowners— that is, to owners of a special privilege—to charge them the value of what they get, even though it would prevent their accumulation of other people’s wealth.”
Q. Why do you believe it is a fundamental remedy?
A. As is said in “Things as They Are”: “The reform, then, of our present land ‘system’ is not the end of reforms nor the sum of reforms. It is, as its great teacher has said, the gateway of reform. More than that, it is the one reform without which all others will be self-destructive, because they tend to increase either population or production, and thereby to increase rent, and so to foster every form of monopoly.”
Q. Many farmers oppose the single tax, as they think it would he oppressive to them. In other words, they hold that their land would be more heavily taxed than all these taxes put together amount to at present, while the holder of bank stock and other securities would be practically exempt from taxation. Do you think their position is well taken?
A. When it is remembered that some land in cities is worth twelve millions of dollars an acre; that a small building lot in the business center of even a small village is worth more than a whole field of the best farming land in the neighborhood; that a few acres of coal or iron is worth more than. great groups of farms; that the right of way of a railroad company through a thickly-settled district or between important points is worth more than its rolling stock; that the value of workingmen’s cottages in the suburbs is trifling in comparison with the value of city residence sites—the absurdity, if not the dishonesty, of the plea that the single tax would discriminate against farmers and small home owners and in favor of the rich is evident. The bad faith of this plea is emphasized when we consider that under existing systems of taxation the farmer and the poor home owner are compelled to pay in taxes on improvements, food, clothing, and other objects of consumption much more than the full annual value of their bare land.
Q. Do you hold with Mr. George that the government should own and operate natural monopolies, or those great monopolies which are operated for the benefit of all the public, as the railways, telegraphs, etc.?
A. No; I hold that, as the single-tax platform says, “it is a fundamental truth that all men are equally entitled to the use of the earth.” As the streets and railroad beds are earth, all are equally entitled to use them. They are highways, and should be treated as such. Mr. George did not carry all his principles as far as we may carry them. I do not see why any liberties should be restricted, nor why the “governors,” who are only a part of the people, should have any exclusive privilege of owning and operating either wires, legs, bicycles, cabs, railroad engines or any other form of locomotion.
Q. What are your views in regard to trusts?
A. There are trusts open to competition and trusts protected from competition. The one kind is a natural and healthy growth, the other an artificial and injurious one. The type of the trust open to competition is the department store; the type of the shielded trust is the coal combine. The reduction in employment of labor in the open trust is due only to greater economy in working; the reduction of the employment of labor in the protected trust is due to restriction of product.
The monopoly feature of trusts always depends upon some restrictive or prohibitive laws—mainly tariff, patent, currency, and land laws. Some of the trusts shelter themselves by combination with that form of land monopoly that lies in a railroad “right of way.” The money combination has the ten per cent. State bank tax, the privilege to the national banks of issue of currency, and the free coinage of gold. The cure for this, as for all other injurious trusts, is not to make more laws but to sweep away the favoring laws on which the evils depend.
The trusts are gaining in strength and in organization, and will oppose a more effective resistance to any absorption by the public than private businesses could do. They must be attacked, by degrees, through the taxing power. We must repeal law after law from which their strength is derived, so as to secure equal freedom to all to engage in those businesses which are not in their nature monopolies. As to those which in their nature depend upon monopoly, we must take under public control that part of them which is necessarily a monopoly. That is, we must destroy patent and money monopolies, make all highways public roads, and open the land to those who will use it—by taxing it so as to make it unprofitable to hold any of it out of use.