Land Limitation and Taxation

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J. K. Ingalls, "Land Limitation and Taxation," Liberty, II, 4 (Nov 25, 1882), pg. 3

Land Limitation and Taxation.

The following article recently appeared in the "Irish World."

Editor Irish World:—People, I see, are holding different ideas regarding the phrase, "the nationalization of the land." Some retain the idea of State property in land and discard the idea of individual property in land. Now, it is very plain to see that, if the individual has no just right to property in land, the State does not justly have that right either, for the right of the State is based upon the right of the individual, as I have before shown in an article in the "Irish World," entitled, "Unjust Taxation."

The State has no inherent right. All its rights, duties powers, and functions are delegated to it by the people; but the people possess these rights by nature. They inhere in the individual.

When we have proved that private property in land is unjust, that fact settles the point, viz., that public property in land is also unjust.

If the State has a just right to sell land, rent land, or buy land, that power was delegated to it by the people, in whom all political power inheres naturally, and denying a power to exist in the individual or in the people that is admitted to exist in the State, is ample proof that the State has usurped a power that is unjust.

"The Land for the People" means the land for those who wish to use it without being the servant to or the master of any other person or persons; to use without paying rent to or exacting rent front ether persons.

This means that by some way we are to limit man’s use of the soil to his needs, and thus prevent a monopoly or more land than is needed for industrial use.

No one yet, to my mind, has solved the whole of this problem, but there are several able exponents in land reform that have done very much in the direction of a solution.

‘Land Limitation" solves one part of the problem, and in the minds of many it solves the whole problem. But it seems to me that this alone is inadequate. I find those who hold to land limitation do not object to private property so much as to monopoly of land, not seeming to perceive the fact that private property in land leads to monopoly.

Limitation cannot justly extend to any species of property. Man must be free to surround himself with the means to advance to a higher condition; "a pursuit of happiness" has especial reference to this. But land limitation is not property limitation. The right to restrict man to the amount of lend necessary for productive use is a power that man can justly delegate to the State, because it is in the very nature of men, for man is bounded in his natural rights by she sphere that bounds others’ rights.

The soil is a natural element, in which man has a natural right to use as his neighbour does; but the right of property in land has been sustained by the State, so that a man’s sphere may reach out and cover the land occupied by a whole people.

This right to invade another’s sphere does not inhere in man, but is often assumed, and even delegated to the State, as at the present time in reference to the use of the land; hence the necessity to discover our natural rights, and those which cannot be carried out or defended by the individual alone must be delegated to the State, and focalized there, where he can draw from a fountain of power commensurate with his necessities for protection.

Men does not surrender a right by conferring a power to the State; he simply helps create a power for the protection of his natural rights by joining, co-operating, with others for a similar purpose.

"Limitation," then, is a part of the solution of the question of "The Land for the People," because it is in the very nature of thing.

Land tax must also take a part in the solution of this great problem of "The Land for the People." No other tax can be made to fail equitably upon the people.

All productive industry is based on the land. No person can surround himself with the means of happiness without occupying the land, and hence if the land alone is taxed, no person engaged in productive industry can escape paying his just contribution to the State.

It may be asked, Who would escape taxation? I answer, The sick, the insane, indolent, and those who lived on charity. Would the State lose much tax by this class that it does not lose now? I venture to say that the idle rich escape more taxation on property hid away, and exempted by unjust laws, and by false swearing, than would take to support all the insane and the beggars of this whole country.

What tax some people escape by hiding, bribing, and false swearing, comes out of other people that do not hide, bribe, nor perjure themselves. Our present tax system is a monstrous system, requiring an army of tax-gatherers and assessors, who could not, if they would, enforce the law. Although the law requires them to stick their nose into everybody’s business, it can’t he equitably enforced. Land as a basis of tax would dispense with two-thirds of this army to assess end collect tax, and could be made to fall equitably, because the land could be found and properly assessed to those who occupied it; end this arrangement would prevent all fraud on the part of the occupants of the land.

J. Wood Porter.

Morris, Illinois.

An article critically commenting on, but mainly approving the foregoing, was sent to the "Irish World" some time ago by one of its ablest contributors, Mr. J. K. Ingalls. Though put in type, it has not yet appeared, and the writer has extended to Liberty the privilege of its first production, of which we gratefully avail ourselves. Can it be that the "Irish World" is determined to admit to its spacious columns no further adverse criticism of the lunacies of George and Davitt? Is the great Light-Spreader afraid of the Light?

Editor Irish World: — Permit me to convey so Mr. J. Wood Porter my sincere thanks for his clear and conclusive statement in regard to the necessity of limiting "man’s use of the soil to his needs, and thus prevent monopoly," and also in respect to the basis of all State or Governmental right depending upon the rights of the individual people.

It seems to me that his positions are unanswerable, and do not propose to make plainer what he has so clearly shown, that "if private property in laud is unjust, public property in land is also unjust" I am sure he will pardon me for pointing out in a friendly way what to me seem mistakes of detail, into which he would probably not have fallen if he had followed throughout the tendency of his original thought, instead of taking for granted the propositions of accepted writers.

I want to say first, however, in regard to a matter of fact that for more than forty years I have been familiar, and, indeed, to an extent identified, with the land limitation movement, but have never seen an advocate of the doctrine who avowed that "it solves the whole problem." They have usually said only that it was a fundamental step necessary to any solution whatever of the monopoly problem, as Mr. Porter also clearly shows.

Matters of taxation, social order, etc., are subsequent, and may be employed to complete the movement as wisdom suggests. Provision to sustain government and the social guarantees and to carry out the principles of limitation follow as a matter of necessity. There is no call to antagonize these things with, "land limitation."

I think the statement that "limitation cannot extend to any species of property" is made without sufficient reflection. The abolition of chattel slavery was effected by a limitation of property in living things, placing all human beings except one’s self beyond that limit. It could never have been abolished by any other process.

We greatly need to disabuse ourselves of all that nonsense about absolute property. There is no such thing. We have no such property even in our bones and tissues. They are constantly changed, and the matter of which they are composed hourly passing beyond our grasp into a "state of Nature" again. Property in our clothes does not give us the right put them on and lay them aside at pleasure without reference to the immunities we owe to others. We cannot ring our bell or blow our horn to the annoyance of our neighbor; we cannot lawfully maltreat our beast of burden, burn our house, or sell decayed meat or vegetables, notwithstanding we have paid out money for them, and they are our property, and we will be protected in the possession of them and in the use of then within certain limits.

There is no respectable civil code in which the limitations on the right of private property are no co-extensive with its guarantees. And there is no reason why property in land should not be limited to actual occupancy and improvement. If, as Mr. Porter so forcibly shows, leases were held instead of title-deeds, without limitation, the abominations of monopoly would go on just the same, for leases can be trafficked in as well as deeds.

There can be no objection to nationalization of the land, with limitation, because that would give the individual access to what is his natural environment, and to all opportunities for self-employment and self-culture.

To my mind, however, Mr. George’s suggestion of the townshipization of the land" is far better, as that would give the control to the local government and bring it nearer to the people. Another step, familization, or rather individualization, would be complete; for, when the land was possessed by everyone, it would be thoroughly nationalized. In saying this, I have no feeling averse to Socialism; but true Socialism must be voluntary—not coerced. Even In the most complete system of society we can conceive the Individual must still have rights and property. He must appropriate food in sustain his life. He must wear clothes which are his, he must have his private and exclusive apartment, and must have the right to be in some place on God’s earth from which he cannot be evicted by landlord or society.

I fully accord with my friend no the proposition to tax production from the land immediately rather than to tax back rents or have any Government rents. I trust he will more fully develop this idea hereafter. While coercive taxation remains, it were better to have all taxation levied as he suggests than to follow the exhaustive, indirect, and subtle methods now employed, which encourage bribery, false swearing, and all forms of corruption, as he points out.

But we must not forget that nothing but productive labor can he taxed. Land cannot. It can be confiscated and the occupant evicted, but that is not taxation. Property or capital cannot be taxed except by meet special and arbitrary assessments, which really are not taxation, but confiscation.

It is true that she author of "Progress and Poverty" discourses learnedly of taxing "lands which are uncultivated" and men who are idlers, but these things are known only in the study of the littérateur. Mr. Davitt even talks of taking the burdens of taxation from the shoulders of labor and placing them on property. Nothing of the kind is possible. The landlord finds no difficulty in shifting the tax front his shoulders to those of his tenant. The tenant even of a store of $100,000 annual rental finds no difficulty in shifting the whole rent, tax and all, to the shoulders of his customers, and they find as little in shifting it to theirs, and so on, until at last it gets down to the laborers, who produce the wealth from the soil.

There nature detects the counterfeit claim, refuses to honor it, and the burden crushes labor to the ground. Taxation, wherever and on whatever laid, reaches here at last, though it may be somewhat reduced by the broad shoulders of labor along the line employed in various callings. On labor, productive labor alone, it all finally falls, and by no possibility can it be made to fail anywhere else. The sooner the workers of the nation and of the world understand this, the sooner they will organize to remedy the gross imposition tinder which they now suffer.

J. K. Ingalls.

New York, October 12, 1882.