Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/264

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

in the fourteenth century; the English insurrection under Jack Cade in the fifteenth; the German Peasants War in the sixteenth, and the burning of the chateaux of the French Revolution: all being efforts to remove by violence the legal obligations attached to land or its tillers, and, therefore, being revolutionary agrarianism; but all remote from the agrarian problems of the modern Western World, and very different even from those of the modern Russian Empire.

Rather, it will be more profitable before dealing with the Single-Tax Theory, to glance at the precursors of Henry George. (1) The Physiocrats taught that land alone yielded a net produce, was thus the ultimate source of taxation, and should be made the immediate source, and all simplified by a single tax (impot unique) on land. (2) Thomas Spence (1750–1814) urged that landowners should be dispossessed without compensation, and all land held inalienably by the commune. (3) William Ogilvie's "Essay on the Right of Property in Land" (1782) denounced the pernicious monopoly of landowners as the cause of social misery, and urged a distribution of land among genuine cultivators of inalienable hereditary small farms. (4) Ricardo (1772–1823) thought land, labor, and capital to be the three factors of production, yielding rent to the landlord, wages to the laborer, and profit to the capitalists, the increasing demand for food from the increasing population inevitably: giving the landlord an ever larger share of the total produce, and leaving less for wages and profits. (5) J. S. Mill followed Ricardo in believing that, through the progress of society, an ever increasing unearned sum flowed into the pockets of the landlords, but no longer, like Ricardo, appealed to the rights of property in defence of it, but emphasized it by giving it the name of "unearned increment"; and though, in view of the frequent recent changes of ownership, he left past acquisitions untouched, he urged that the State should take not the past, but, any fresh unearned increment in the future. Then the American Henry George (1839-97) set forth most attractively in his "Progress and Poverty" (1879), the theory that not merely all future, but all actual unearned increment should be intercepted, the method being the total appropriation of rent by taxation, a single tax on land values replacing all other taxes. This "simple yet sovereign remedy" would raise wages and profits, abolish poverty, lessen crime, elevate morals, and purify government. Indeed this single-tax theory appeared to its author so self-evident that he reproached the Pope for not having, in his Labor Encyclical (Rerum Novarum, 1891), accepted its reasoning (Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII, New York, 1891). "Progress and Poverty" was translated into eleven languages; a Land-Nationalization Society still existent (1906), was founded, in England, under Dr. A. Russel Wallace (author of "Land Nationalisation", London, 1882), who indeed allowed to actual landlords what George calls "the impudent plea" of compensation; the single-tax was advocated by Flürscheim in Germany, and, under the persistent misnomer of "land-reform", still has a German Society to support it (Adolf Damaschke, "Die Bodenreform", Berlin, 1902).

Henry George has been criticized from the economic, the juridical, and the socialist standpoint on the following grounds: (a) That "rent", in the sense of an unearned increment, is not confined to land, but is seen in all forms of production, wherever a common market price yields a surplus to those who can produce more cheaply than their competitors. (b) That we cannot separate "the original powers of the soil from the land as transformed by culture" (e.g. drainage or accessibility), or separate "property in things created by God" from "property in things made by man", much of so-called "rent" being merely interest on previous expenditure, and the part that is really unearned increment rarely ascertainable. (c) That neither theoretically nor historically true is the alleged tendency to a perpetual rise of rent; the amount depending on differential advantages, the difference incessantly fluctuating up and down, according to every change in production, consumption, and communication; and the final twenty years of George's life witnessing a serious decline in the value of farming land in the United Kingdom and in New England. (d) That in one vast section of British India, where for many years the State has attempted by periodical land settlements to absorb the unearned increment, and the single-tax system is in great measure in force, the population is no better off, but rather more penurious, than in the other vast section, where no such system is in force, but the Permanent Settlement of Bengal instead. (e) That a great unmerited loss is inflicted on those who have recently bought land, or have received land as their part of a testamentary estate, while those who have recently sold land, or have received cash as their part of a testamentary estate, escape scot-free. (f) That if individuals may not take to themselves the land that God has given to all, no more may nations; and the Irish soil thus belongs no more to the Celts than to the Saxons, the United States no more to the Americans than to the Chinese. Further, from the socialist standpoint (g) that George offers an illogical half measure, recovering for the workers only one portion of the "surplus product", and leaving competitive anarchy and capitalist exploitation untouched; whereas incomes, in the shape of dividends and interest, are just as much "unearned income" as incomes in the shape of rent.

But though there is discord between revolutionary agrarianism and collectivism, they are alike in opposition to the uniform teaching and tradition of the Catholic Church on the lawfulness of private ownership of income-yielding property, whether it be named "land" or "capital". And they are alike in opposition to the ideal of all great statesmen from Solon to Leo XIII, namely, flourishing populations of small farmers or peasants. Thus George attacks any wide distribution of landed property, asserts the productivity of large farms to be the greatest, the tendency of small farms to disappear, the misery of their holders, the pity of multiplying them (Progress and Poverty, VI, i.). Equally hostile is the brilliant socialist Karl Kautsky, "Die Agrarfrage" (Stuttgart, 1899), asserting the technical inferiority and social misery of the small farmer; and, instead of his "sham independence" promising him "redemption from the hell wherein his private property keeps him chained." Neither George nor Kautsky are true to facts, but both are good witnesses to the importance of agrarian reform as fatal to agrarian socialism. The misuse of the rights of property, such as the misdeeds of Scotch and Irish landlordism, and of the tenement-owners of Europe and America, are the food that feeds agrarian socialism. To make such misdeeds impossible is the task of social reform under a wise government. Nor is it accidental that the Encyclicals of Leo XIII form a manual of social politics. For as grace rests on nature, the religion that is alone truly Divine, must also ipso facto be truly human. But the instinct of private property is truly human; and the proper unfolding of human liberty and personality is historically bound up with it, and cannot develop where each person is only a sharer in a compulsory partnership, or, on the other hand, where property is confined to a privileged few. Suitably, therefore, the same Pope who had defended the true dignity and true liberty of man urged the diffusion of property as the mean between Socialism and In-