point is all based upon the false assumption that because one piece of land when sold for a building site fetches a high price, therefore all the land in the neighbourhood can be sold at the same price. Let me give a concrete illustration. A certain town in Scotland is increasing steadily in population, and absorbs about ten acres of agricultural land every year. There are about 600 acres all waiting for absorption, and when any one of these acres is sold the owner can secure 10001.; but this furnishes no justification for taxing the adjoining acre, as if it also were worth 10001. It may remain for twenty years or more before anyone wants to build upon it. In the meantime the only use to which it can be put is an agricultural use.

The error of the land taxers in regard to this essential part of their case arises from forgetfulness of two propositions, which are at the same time fundamental and axiomatic. Nothing can be sold unless there is a demand for it; the State cannot create a demand for anything merely by putting a tax upon it.

The land taxers are equally forgetful of obvious facts when they allege that there is no room to live, in consequence of what they call the grasping greed of land monopolists. In Glasgow, the birthplace of these myths, there were, in June 1906, nearly 14,000 empty houses, which would have afforded accommodation for nearly 50,000 people. The London County Council a few years ago was possessed with the same belief that there was no room to live, and bought a large estate at Tottenham for the erection of workmen's dwellings. It has since discovered that only a few acres can be developed at a time, because there is only a limited demand for houses. In seven years, only twenty acres have been partially developed, out of a total area of 225 acres.

It may be argued that though there are thousands of empty houses throughout the kingdom, and though thousands of new houses are being erected every year, yet rents are still in excess of what many workpeople can afford to pay. So far as the centres of our great towns are concerned this is true, and likely always to remain true. Land, in the centre of large towns, is wanted for shops and warehouses and offices, and it is a mistake to attempt artificially to retain a working-class population in such districts. Much of the industrial work now done in towns could perfectly well be carried on under much healthier conditions in the country, and economic forces, if left alone, would force such work, and the people employed upon it, out into the fresh air.

As regards housing schemes in the suburbs, the possibility of reducing rents does not depend on the price of land nearly so much as on the price of capital. Here are the actual figures of a co-operative building scheme in the suburbs of London. The land was bought for 4001. an acre, another 4001. was spent on roads and sewers, and seventeen houses at 3001. each were built to the acre. With capital at 5 per cent., the total cost of each house for land, roads, sewers, and building


[ocr errors]

worked out to 171. 78. per annum. If the land bad been obtained for nothing, the annual cost of each house would have been reduced by ll. 38. 6d. On the other hand, if the price of the land had still remained 4001., but if capital could have been obtained at 4 per cent. instead of 5 per cent., the cost per house would have been reduced by 31. 98. 4d. In other words, a saving of only 1 per cent. in the cost of capital would have been three times as important as the saving of the whole cost of the land. Similar figures could be given for every suburban scheme of housing. In the case of rural housing, which is by far the more important problem, the cost of land becomes almost negligible in comparison with the cost of capital.

The same consideration applies to the question of unemployment. One of the favourite assertions of the land taxers is that unemployment is due to land monopoly. There is no land monopoly in this country. There is indeed a monopoly in particular pieces of land, just as I have a monopoly of the particular pair of trousers I am wearing. But there is no general monopoly in land. If one piece is held back, other pieces can be bought. There are, in England and Wales alone, at least a million separate free-holders, and the idea that these million persons are linked together in a syndicate to force up the price of land is too absurd for even momentary consideration. What is wanted is not easier access to land, but easier access to capital. Any man who has the enterprise to cross the Atlantic can get a free grant of 160 acres of land from the Canadian Government; but land, whether in Canada or in England, is useless without capital to cultivate it. From the point of view of employment, a small reduction in the rate of interest is far more important than the complete abolition of rent.

The principal delusions of the land taxers have now been dealt with, but there is one crucial question that still remains to be considered. Whom do they propose to tax? They talk at large about ducal landowners and coroneted grabbers of the people's property, but are these the persons who will be taxed ? Two alternatives present themselves : either existing contracts are to be respected, in which case the new tax on land values will fall upon the occupiers and not upon the owners of land; or contracts are to be disregarded, in which case what is equivalent to a new income tax will be imposed upon incomes derived from the ownership of land.

With regard to the second alternative, the injustice of picking out one set of persons for penal taxation was urged above with arguments which applied with equal force whether the persons arbitrarily penalised in this manner were rich or poor. As a matter of fact, however, most of the persons who would suffer from such a special tax are not rich. They are middle-class or working-class people who have laboriously accumulated a few hundred pounds, and invested it in English land upon the security of the laws of England. Millions of pounds sterling have been invested in ground rents and freehold property by friendly



societies, by building societies, and by the great insurance companies like the Prudential, whose dealings are mostly with poor people. So serious is the outlook that several of the friendly societies have already passed resolutions urging that their property may be exempt from any scheme for taxing land values. The importance of the work done by the friendly societies no one appreciates more than the present writer, but, however valuable that work may be, these societies are not entitled to claim special exemption from a tax which would inflict no greater injustice on them than on thousands of people who are less able to make an effective protest. All over the country industrious people have bought ground rents, feu duties, and ground annuals, subject to the condition that they shall only be liable for landlord's income tax, and they have a right to demand that these contracts shall be respected by the State.

That was the view of the Liberal leaders. On the 28th of June 1907 a deputation representing various bodies in Scotland who hold feu duties in trust for charitable purposes, and also representing private owners of feu duties, was received by the late Prime Minister. His reply to their statements was very brief, and for the moment absolutely conclusive. He said : ‘Your sole object, as I understand, in coming here is to know whether the Government contemplate going back upon existing contracts. In one sentence, that is the whole question, and to that question I can answer, I think, in the most condensed form in which we are accustomed to answer questions in the House of Commons by the words, “ No, sir.” : A few days later, the present Prime Minister, speaking at the United Kingdom Provident Institution, said, 'It was quite certain that existing contracts would be respected.' This statement was applauded at the time by a prominent Liberal paper, the Daily Chronicle, as a proof that the investing classes had nothing to fear from Liberal legislation. Yet now the same paper is urging that these pledges only applied to a rate upon land values for local purposes, and that a tax for Imperial purposes is quite a different

, thing—as if it made any difference to a man whose property is taken from him by Act of Parliament whether the money goes to the local council or to the central Government.

The reason for this change of attitude on the part of the Liberal press is fairly obvious. The land taxers have discovered that if existing


: On the 11th of July 1907, in an article headed Groundless Alarms,' the Daily Chronicle wrote: “The taxation of feus and ground rents would affect not merely, as some people perhaps suppose, a few dukes and other wealthy ground landlords, but also many and great commercial, industrial, and trust interests ; churches, banks, insurance companies, and provident institutions are all large holders of feas and ground rents. Hence the importance of Mr. Asquith's definite assurances.' On the 4th of December 1908, the same paper wrote: It will no doubt be said that the late Prime Minister, in his answer to a certain deputation, said that existing contracts would not be interfered with. That intimation, however, related to an entirely different proposal.'

contracts are to be respected the man who will have to pay the new tax will be the occupier, not the owner of the property. But the moment the general public also makes this discovery the whole scheme of taxing land values will be blown sky high. That scheme has only received popular support because it has been represented as a means of getting at' the great landowners. They were to be compelled to disgorge their fabulous wealth, and the ordinary ratepayer was to be relieved of all his burdens. To ask the men who have been fed upon these fictions for a dozen years still to welcome a land values tax when they learn that they will have to pay it themselves, in addition to all their old burdens, is to ask more than human nature can give. The Government are therefore in this dilemma : they must either go back upon their own pledges and outrage the moral sense of the country by violating contracts; or else they must risk a revolt of the stalwart land taxers, by making the people who have clamoured for this tax themselves pay it.





[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

IN the January issue of this REVIEW, under the head Modern Occultism,' Professor Simon Newcomb has done us the service of stating his matured' opinions concerning the inquiries which the Society for Psychical Research was founded to pursue.

He calls the subject ‘Occultism,' whereas of course our effort has been to remove it from that obscure category and place it upon a reasonable, and ultimately upon a scientific, foundation; so that the term he employs is not one that would be selected by us; but, employing this term, the conclusion at which Professor Newcomb has arrived is that, taking all things into account, ‘nothing is left on which to base any theory of occultism’; a conclusion which he also expresses more clearly thus : 'Nothing has been brought out by the researchers of the Psychical Society except what we should expect to find in the ordinary course of nature.'

If this phrase “The Psychical Society' is intended to signify 'The Society for Psychical Research' incorporated in England, this challenge demands a reply.

It is a remarkable verdict to give, when all that is going on, even now, is taken into account. The leading articles in the contemporary number of the Hibbert Journal, for instance, make it rather a difficult position to maintain.

But in view of the normal and natural prejudice against unusual facts, it is the easiest and most comfortable attitude to assume, for a time; since undoubtedly what he says in a sentence at the beginning of his article is true, namely, that all allegations as to occult facts have generally been, and therefore can still freely be, 'classed with superstition, as belonging to a stage of intellectual development which the world has now left behind.'

Now I have to confess that with the attitude of mind presented by this eminent astronomer and mathematician I have some sympathy. Few things are more irritating than to have thrust upon our notice

« VorigeDoorgaan »