Editor Popular Science Monthly:
DEAR SIR: Is not the land question, viewed from an American standpoint, simply a disagreement about methods rather than ethical principles; and are not the distinctions sought to be established between absolute and relative political ethics more subtle than philosophical or accurate?
A great part of the land in the United States was in the beginning, and much of it is still, just in the condition demanded by Mr. Laidler and his confrères—the absolute property of the Government. Almost the whole country was at first "held by the great corporate body—society," without any suspicion of "violence, fraud, the prerogative of force, or the claims of superior cunning" in any way affecting the sources to which titles are traced. Government was free to do as it would with its possessions: either to sell, lease, or farm them in its own behalf. Government—that is, society—chose to sell or give away the public domain in fee-simple, reserving the right of eminent domain. The moment land is reduced to private ownership, it becomes subject to taxation, and must bear its share of the burdens of society. It contributes toward the maintenance of roads, schools, infirmaries, hospitals, and all the complicated machinery necessary to the well-being of the social fabric. If land, subject to private ownership, fails to pay its tax assessments, it is forthwith confiscated and reverts to the state, which finally sells it, without possibility of redemption, to some other person who will pay the taxes—that is, contribute to maintain society. Who decides what amount of burden land shall bear? Not the private proprietor certainly, but society. No private owner can evade this implied contract—namely, to contribute as much to the support of society as society may deem necessary. Hence every citizen may be said to have an interest to the extent of his political or social influence in all the lands of the commonwealth. And the tenure of every landholder depends on his ability to meet the burdens laid upon his land by non-owners, since these everywhere constitute a majority. Strictly speaking, therefore, there is no such thing as private ownership of land in the sense in which the expression is used in the discussion. The owner may sell, lease, or bequeath his holding; but the usufruct of society, which exists prior to all other claims, can not be avoided. Mr. Laidler's assertion, therefore, quoting from Mr. Spencer, that if men may make the soil private property, "then the Duke of Sutherland may justifiably banish Highlanders to make room for sheep-walks," is fallacious. This false assumption invalidates equally all of the ten sections which compose his argument. As land tenures exist in the United States, the landless men, instead of becoming subject to "expulsion from the earth altogether," would be far more likely to bring about the confiscation of all of the duke's vast possessions by the legitimate exercise of their constitutional powers of direct and indirect taxation.
It may be urged that the existing tenure of land in the United States does not represent the status of private ownership in older and densely populated countries, and still less so that possible condition of the earth and mankind contemplated by the expounder of absolute political ethics. The obvious reply is, that neither condition is essential to the continuation of private ownership. Let the Socialists direct their complaints against hereditary privileges and the abuses of private ownership, and not against that coincident form of land tenure which, when properly adjusted, is best adapted to realize their views. If all lands in Great Britain could be suddenly transferred to the crown, is there any way in which society could better manage or dispose of them than the United States has adopted? No better way, certainly, has yet been indicated. Government here—notably the State of Ohio in the management of her school lands—tried for many years all known methods of leasing these lands, and all ended in conspicuous failure. Her public men universally denounced the system of leases, after experimenting with it in all possible ways, until an act of Congress authorized the school lands to be sold. If society, after actual experience, has condemned and abandoned the methods advocated by the Socialists, and adopted the existing form of private ownership as the best which statesmanship has to offer, what reason is there to suppose that the resumption of public ownership, if it could be accomplished, would lead to better results in the future? Under the present form of private holdings, land is made to yield the largest possible returns, and to contribute of its products the largest possible contingent for the benefit of the landless. Can any theory of government or system of philosophy be true which is inconsistent with obvious facts?
|James L. Taylor.|
|Wheelersburg, Ohio, December 30, 1889.|
Editor Popular Science Monthly:
I have read the article by Grant Allen in the October number of "The Popular Science Monthly," and I wish to say that if I knew even one woman of "advanced" ideas