Individual Liberty : Part 05, Chapter 06 : Occupancy and Use Versus the Single Tax
(1854 - 1939) ~ American Father of Individualist Anarchism : An individualist Anarchist, Tucker (1854Ð1939) was a person of intellect rather than of action, focusing on the development of his ideas and on the publication of books and journals, especially the journal Liberty: Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "Even in so delicate a matter as that of the relations of the sexes the Anarchists do not shrink from the application of their principle. They acknowledge and defend the right of any man and woman, or any men and women, to love each other for as long or as short a time as they can, will, or may. To them legal marriage and legal divorce are equal absurdities." (From : "State Socialism and Anarchism," by Benjamin R. Tu....)
• "If the individual has a right to govern himself, all external government is tyranny. Hence the necessity of abolishing the State." (From : "State Socialism and Anarchism," by Benjamin R. Tu....)
• "The evil to which this [tariff] monopoly gives rise might more properly be called misusury than usury, because it compels labor to pay, not exactly for the use of capital, but rather for the misuse of capital." (From : "State Socialism and Anarchism," by Benjamin R. Tu....)
Part 05, Chapter 06
Excerpted from the book;
Individual Liberty: Selections From the Writings of Benjamin R. Tucker
Vanguard Press, New York, 1926
Kraus Reprint Co., Millwood, NY, 1973.
In December, 1894, Mr. Steven T. Byington, still a Single Taxer, started a discussion with the editor of Liberty (Mr. John Beverley Robinson and Miss Katharine J. Musson participating) on certain factors in the land tenure and rent problems. Mr. Byington, an expert mathematician, carried the discussion into quite an intricate maze of figures, which are rather hard for the reader to understand without complete reproduction, here impossible. But, since Mr. Tucker's replies embodied some very pertinent and valuable explanations and arguments, it has been attempted to give as many of these as will be coherent without a full presentation of the other side. The discussion extends over a period of more than a year:
It is not my purpose to lose myself in the mathematical maze through which Comrades Robinson and Byington are now gropingly threading their way. But I may point out to the latter, anent the dire perplexities in which he has involved 111 coal miners, that political economy knows not only a law of diminishing returns, but a law of increasing returns as well, and that he has ignored this branch of the law in the operation of his second mine.
In the first mine, where 100 men are already at work at the time of Mr. Byington's hypothesis, it may fairly be supposed that the law of diminishing returns begins to apply; but in the second mine, where not even one man works until there are 110 at work in the first, it is equally fair to suppose that the law of increasing returns will be in force until here also there are 100 workers. In that case the second mine, instead of yielding (as Mr. Byington presumes) one workman $900, two $1790, three $2670, etc., would yield one workman $900, two $1810, three $2730, etc. This little fact brings a wonderful change over the spirit of Mr. Byington's dreadful dream. For no sooner will his 111th miner have begun to work the second mine alone than he will be joined by the 110th, and the 109th, and the 108th, and the 107th, etc., etc., each new accession having a tendency to increase the earnings of the 11 men and to reduce the swollen incomes of the original 100, and the movement as a whole achieving, if not a restoration of absolute equality, at least a considerable approach to it. Which again impels me to recall the remark of Bastiat that there are things that we see and things that we don't see.
Again: the hypothesis is unwarrantably violent in predicating the existence of but one first-quality mine. As a matter of fact, there would in most cases be a number of superior mines nearly on a level in point of quality, and as the demand for coal increased, these mines would compete to secure extra labor, the competition forcing them to pay for this labor as much as could be paid without reducing the $1000 income enjoyed by each of the original occupants.
Still again: absolute freedom being the condition of the hypothesis, these mines would compete for this labor, not only with each other, but with all the other branches of industry newly opened or increased in activity by free money, free land, and free conditions generally, which would make it still less possible to obtain labor without awarding it its full product.
And further: it is assuming too much to say that a fair interpretation of the terms occupancy and use could exclude all but 100 men from the mine in question. Here the economic problem becomes complicated with engineering problems which I am incompetent to discuss; but it is not at all sure that the theory of occupancy and use would enable any hundred men to get the grip on subterranean riches that is here presumed.
And - last consideration of all - mining is but one, and the smallest, of the four great classes of labor, and the others are not relieved in the same degree from the equalizing influence of competition; so that, were a considerable inequality proven a necessity of mining, it would not follow that there would be as great inequality, or necessarily any at all, in agriculture, manufactures and commerce.
Thus you see, Mr. Byington, that, do your little sum as nicely as you will, there are still a few other things to be thought of.
It must not be supposed, however, that I share Mr. Robinson's view that economic rent is not a reality. I believe that economic rent exists now, and would continue under freedom, but then with a tendency to decrease and a possibility (though not a probability) of ultimate disappearance. In any event, taking the worst view of the matter, it would be distributed among actual occupants and users, - a vastly greater number than now enjoy it, - which would be much better for all than to distribute it among those who benefit by political jobbery, or among the people themselves through the agency of a State landlord, which would speedily become, by successive grants and usurpations of power, a State money-lord, a State industry-lord, a State education-lord, a State religion-lord, a State love-lord, and a State art-lord.
Equality if we can get it, but Liberty at any rate!
By compelling Mr. Byington to recognize the law of increasing returns in both mines instead of in one alone, I at the same time compel him to assume, in order to overcome the tendency of this law toward equality, a far greater and more improbable inferiority in the quality of the second mine than he attributed to that mine in his first hypothesis. And, as these sudden drops in quality are not, as a general thing, typical of the actual fact, Mr. Byington's new figures greatly weaken his argument.
It is not altogether a question of how much these laborers are worth to employers engaged in coal-mining. Their worth to employers in other lines must be taken into account. Under freedom, when the availability of capital will furnish new avenues for labor, Mr. Byington's 111th man who goes to work in the second mine for $900 instead of accepting offers of $1000 from men in other lines of business will be a fool who deserves his fate.
But, says Mr. Byington, the demand for coal finally making it worth while to pay the 111th man $1000 to go to work in the second mine, this demand and consequent rise in price will correspondingly increase the reward of the operators of the first mine, and the inequality will be as great as ever. Which means, at the worst, that, while none are paid any less than formerly, some are paid more. Dreadful thing! As Mr. Donisthorpe has pointed out in a way that evidently appeals with force to my Christian friend, Mr. Byington, the accidental benefiting of another is, "in the present state of Christian fraternity, a consummation to be carefully shunned."
Whether the neighboring farmers should sink shafts themselves or part with their land to others wishing to do so, in either case there would be an introduction of a new competitive factor tending toward equality. The article to which Mr. Byington now replies was one calling his attention to factors in the rent problem which he seemed to neglect. The liability of access to the first coal vein through a new shaft was one of these factors, and Mr. Byington's answer does not get rid of it. His nearest approach to it is a suggestion of the Malthusian argument, to which I can only respond that, if Malthusianism be true, it militates as strongly against the single tax as against any other reformatory proposal. I may add - though this matter is not strictly pertinent to the present discussion, but an engrafting upon it of an old discussion - that I would not, under any ordinary circumstances, oust an occupant and user to get either mining land or a right of way thereto. But I can conceive of circumstances, not only in the relations of men to the land, but in the relations of men to each other, where I would, for the moment, trample ruthlessly upon all the principles by which successful society must as a general thing be guided. I would advise Mr. Byington to consider for a while whether he himself is superior to necessity before too confidently assuming that there is any single rule to which he can always conform his conduct.
I know of no domain that occupies a higher eminence than that occupied by the domain which says to every user of land: "Hand over to me all that your land yields you over and above what the most barren of wastes yields to your most unfortunate fellowman, or else I will throw you neck and heels into the street." The "eminent domain" that I believe in, if Mr. Byington insists on so denominating it, would assume no rights in any land whatsoever, but would simply decline to protect the dominion of any one over land which he was not using.
To block up a narrow passage not regularly occupied and used for purposes of travel is one thing; to barricade an improved, claimed, and constantly used highway is another thing. Admission of the former requires no reconciliation with denial of the latter.
The value of land under the present system of land tenure has no bearing whatever on my assertion that under freedom the equalizing influence of competition is felt less in mining than in other branches of labor. If A has a mine in which his day's labor will yield him ten percent. more coal than B's day's labor will yield B in another mine, A will derive ten percent more from the sale of his coal than B will derive from the sale of his, because all the coal, assuming it to be of equal quality, will bring the same price per ton, so far as the mine owner is concerned. But commercial competition in cities is a different matter. In the lower and busy section of New York city there are perhaps a hundred drug stores occupying sites which may vary slightly in suitability for the drug trade, but all of which are excellent. In the upper parts of the city there are other drug stores, most of which occupy vastly inferior sites. There is always a stiff competition in progress between the downtown druggists, but, in spite of this, the high rents which they have to pay prevent them from putting their prices much below the prices prevailing up town. Now, if the present system of land tenure should be changed to one of occupancy and use, what would happen? Why, the downtown druggists, relieved of the burden of rent, would lower their prices in competition with each other until all or nearly all the rent which they now pay landlords would be flowing into the pockets of their customers. The profits of the downtown druggist doing a large business at low prices could be little or no more than normal wages, and those of the uptown druggist doing a small business at high prices could be little or no less. In this typical commercial example competition under freedom shows a strong tendency to take from the occupants of superior sites their advantage. The occupants of inferior commercial sites can in most cases obtain for their goods prices proportionately higher, but the owner of a mine yielding are inferior quantity of coal can get no more per ton for his product than can his more fortunate rivals. This is the difference that I pointed out to Mr. Byington, and his remark regarding the present value of city land is no answer.
Certainly no land, except the very poorest, will be free under the single tax, for every occupant of land that is good for anything will have to pay tribute to the State. Evidently free land is one thing to Mr. Byington and another thing to me. I consider a potato patch whose cultivator pays no rent free land, even though it be a city corner lot; and I should consider the same piece of land not free, but monopolized, if it were occupied by a confectioner obliged to pay tribute either to an individual or to the State.
The man who plants himself in a passageway simply takes up vacant land and becomes an occupant thereof in good faith for ordinary and legitimate purposes, and not with a view to unnecessarily and maliciously embarrassing and crippling others. But, though the intent were not malicious, if the result were not merely inconvenience for others but complete imprisonment, I should regard the emergency as sufficiently critical to warrant a violation of principle. Not for gods, devils, society, men or principles would I allow myself to be imprisoned, completely crippled, and virtually killed, if I could in any way avoid it. But I would suffer a great deal of embarrassment in order to avoid the violation of a principle the general observance of which I consider essential to the closest possible approximation to that social harmony which I deem of high value to myself.
By all means kick for your full product, Mr. Byington, and kick hard. I wish you to get it if you can, as I too wish to get mine. But I am not willing to pay too much for it. I am not willing to part with my liberty to get my full product, unless that part of my product which I do get is insufficient to keep me from starving. And even then I personally might prefer death; I do not know. Besides, Mr. Byington does not fairly represent his fellow Single-Taxers. He wants his own product, but their chief worry is because their product goes in part to a neighbor whom they hate, - the landlord; and they will be abundantly satisfied when it shall be taken from this hated neighbor and given to another whom they love, - the tax-collector.
Mr. Byington said that, whatever relief might come from the opening of new mines, the needs of civilization would soon press upon the limits of these mines. This is simply a form of saying that, whatever new opportunities may be opened for labor, the tendency of population to outstrip the means of subsistence is sure to ultimately neutralize them. That is Malthusianism; and, if it is true, all economic reforms, including the Single Tax, are a delusion and a snare.
I have not urged that society should make any exceptions in favor of the man who commits an invasion under circumstances that go far to excuse him. This would be a matter entirely for the jury. If I were on a jury to try the case of a man who had stolen bread when starving, I would vote in favor of a formal penalty, too light to be burdensome, and yet sufficient to stamp the act as invasive.
The simple fact is this, - that necessity, and only necessity, may excuse the coercion of the innocent. Now, necessity knows no law, and it knows no "aims"; it does not inquire whether the coercion to be exercised will be direct or indirect, incidental or essential; it just coerces, whether or no, and because it cannot do otherwise.
I believe that all vacant land should be free in Mr. Byington's sense of the word, - that is, open to be freely occupied by any comer. I believe that all occupied land should be free in my sense of the word, - that is, enjoyed by the occupant without payment of tribute to a nonoccupant. Whether the achievement of these two freedoms will tend to reduce rental values we shall know better when Mr. Byington has "seen about those drug-stores."
In this sense [evicting occupants contrary to the principle of liberty, under the plea of a higher law of necessity] I declare my willingness to stand for eminent domain. But I insist that Mr. Byington does not, as he claims, get rid of eminent domain, but on the contrary gives it the most rigorous and universal application, when he proposes to exact from each land-occupant a portion of his product under penalty of eviction.
I accept Mr. Byington's amendment. I think myself that it is better to exclude the matter of good faith. It is simpler and truer to say that any man who uses his land for the commission of a plainly invasive act may be dispossessed and treated as a criminal. If the act committed is of a doubtful character, then the same rule applies here that applies to all other doubtful cases: that is, the troublesome party should be given the benefit of the doubt, either until his course becomes clearly invasive, when he should be dispossessed as an invader, or until it becomes a peremptory menace to the community's safety, when he should be dispossessed in the name of necessity, though it be still doubtful whether he is an invader.
I deny that the thing fundamentally desirable is the minimum of invasion. The ultimate end of human endeavor is the minimum of pain. We aim to decrease invasion only because, as a rule, invasion increases the total of pain (meaning, of course, pain suffered by the ego, whether directly or through sympathy with others.) But it is precisely my contention that this rule, despite the immense importance which I place upon it, is not absolute; that, on the contrary, there are exceptional cases where invasion-that is, coercion of the noninvasive-lessens the aggregate pain. Therefore coercion of the noninvasive, when justifiable at all, is to be justified on the ground that it secures, not a minimum of invasion, but a minimum of pain. The position, then, which Mr. Byington seems to take that coercion of the noninvasive is allowable only as an unavoidable incident in the coercion of invaders, and not allowable when it is an unavoidable incident in the prevention of impending cataclysmic disaster not the work of invaders, is seen at once to be inconsistent with my fundamental postulate - to me axiomatic - that the ultimate end is the minimum of pain. If Mr. Byington believes that the minimum of invasion is always desirable, I summon him to deal specifically with the case cited by me in my discussion with Mr. Yarros, - the case, that is, of a burning city which can be saved from total destruction only by blowing up the houses on a strip of territory inhabited by noninvasive persons who refuse their consent to such disposition of their property. If Mr. Byington thinks that these houses should not be blown up, I ask him to tell us why. If, on the other hand, he admits that they should be blown up, I ask him if such action would not be "injury to non-invaders without the resistance of invasion," - a policy to which he declares himself opposed under any circumstances. Can he maintain his abstract proposition in face of the concrete illustration? Moreover, the illustration, though not framed originally for this discussion, is a most happy one for the purpose, since here it is the innocent act of land-occupancy which constitutes the obstacle to social welfare. I hold, then, to my claim that occupancy and use as the title to land is not vitiated by the fact that it is a rule which, like all others, must sometimes be trodden underfoot.
Either Mr. Byington has not understood me, or I do not understand him. His answer to me seems to be based on an assumption that my previous answer to him was just the opposite of what it really was. He had put to me this question: "If A builds a house, and rents it to B, who thereupon lives or works in it under the lease, will you regard A or B as the occupier and user of the land on which that house stands?" I answered: "I would regard B as the occupant and user of the land on which the house stands, and as the owner of the house itself." To this Mr. Byington rejoins: "Then houses will be rented under your system just as now, and the sum charged for rent will include the rental value of the land as well as payment for the use of the house." A most remarkable conclusion, surely! To my own mind the logical conclusion is precisely the contrary. It is perfectly clear to me that A will not build a house to rent to B, if he knows that the protective association will recognize B as the owner of both land and house as soon as he becomes the occupant. I utterly repudiate the idea that unused land, if usable, would remain idle under an occupancy-and-use regime. How could it, when any one would be free to take it and would not be forced to pay rent for it?
As a result of the misunderstanding, Mr. Byington has failed to "see about the -drug-stores." All his present remarks upon them are mal a propos. Under an occupancy-and-use system all ground-floor druggists - that is, all retail druggists - will be owners of both land and store, and competition will proceed among them with the effect described by me, and my argument that "competition under freedom shows a strong tendency to take from the occupants of superior sites their advantage" remains intact. Mr. Byington will have to try again. First, however, let me answer his puerile question: "Why does not the man who now pays no rent because he is on his own land now undersell his rent-paying competitors." For precisely the same reason that the man who pays no interest because he is using his own capital does not under-sell his interest-paying competitors. Is Mr. Byington really unaware that the man who uses that which he could lend to another for a price insists on getting as much profit from it (in addition to the reward of his labor and enterprise) as he would get if he should lend it?
Mr. Byington may understand that the man who builds a cage over the sleeper is an invader. The man who blocks up an improved, claimed, and constantly used highway is also an invader. The man who takes possession of an unoccupied, unimproved, unused passage is not an invader, and does not become one simply because, afterwards, somebody else wishes to make a highway of it. Such a man is not to be dispossessed except in one of those rare emergencies when necessity, which knows no law, compels it.
Regarding protection of occupancy, I answer Mr. Byington that undoubtedly the protective association would insist on registration of all titles to real estate as a condition of protection. Then, in case of dispute between claimants and a failure of the jury to agree, the protective association would regard as the occupant the party whose registration of title it had already accepted.
The picket note to which Mr. Byington alludes was a criticism upon Miss Katharine J. Musson. The paragraph being short, I reproduce it:
The statement that a State can have no rights except those delegated to it by individuals is singular doctrine on the lips of a Single Taxer. Miss Musson acknowledges the right of the State to collect rent from every land-occupant, this rent being in her eyes the just due of all individuals, since all have an equal right to the use of every part of the earth. It follows from these two positions that the State, if it collects my share of this rent, commits an act of usurpation, for I have not delegated to it the right to collect my rent. And yet I have not heard that Miss Musson or any other Single Taxer would limit the State, in the exercise of its rent-collecting function, to the collection of only such portion of the total rent as is properly due to the persons who have appointed the State their rent-collector. It follows further that all individuals who, like myself, have not appointed the State their rent-collector may, if they choose, go about, each individually, from one land-occupant to another, collecting their respective shares of the rent due. According to this, I have the right to at once start on a tour among my neighbors (or even among all the land-occupying inhabitants of the earth) and demand of each the delivery into my hands of that greater or smaller fraction of a cent which each owes me for the current quarter. Or, if I find this course too expensive, all those who ignore the State may unite in appointing a private force of rent-collectors to collect their share of the total rent. Does Miss Musson accept these logical inferences from her position?
Mr. Byington admits that the State is a usurper if it collects my share of rent without getting from me a power of attorney. He claims neither for himself or for any other person or for any association of persons the right to collect my share of rent without authorization from me. Accordingly he expresses a willingness to enter into an arrangement with me for the collection of our rents; that is, he invites me to give a power of attorney. I must admit that this is very accommodating on Mr. Byington's part; nevertheless, I churlishly decline. If any part of the money in the hands of land-users belongs to me (which is the hypothesis just now). I prefer to leave it where it is. Now, Mr. Byington, what are you and your Single-Tax friends going to do about it? I do not call upon you to determine my share; so far as I am concerned, it may remain undetermined. But, if you are going to collect your share, you will have to determine first what your share is. At any rate, I bid you take good care not to touch mine. By your own confession you Single Taxers are entitled to collect only such rent as is the rightful share of the Single Taxers, all others refusing to delegate their rights. Do you tell me that such a task is insuperably difficult and intrinsically absurd? Very well, I answer; that fact is not my fault; it is simply the misfortune of the Single-Tax theory.
The collection of rent by each individual from all land-users on earth, which Mr. Byington accepts so complacently, is an absurdity which Miss Musson cannot stand. So she attempts to dispute my conclusion. I am not debating with her now regarding the Single-Tax theory. For the nonce I am accepting it; I am supposing that I have a right in certain funds now in the hands of land-users. So never mind the Single-Tax theory. Then she tells me of the dreadful things that would happen if, under an occupancy-and-use regime, I should refuse to delegate my right. But I am not discussing occupancy and use either. Miss Musson is supposed to know nothing of my opinions on the land question. I present myself to her simply as the individual, Tucker, who declines to delegate his rights, just as I might have presented a hypothetical individual, Smith. But, argues Miss Musson, you have no separate right to rent. Very well; we will not dispute about that either. The only thing that concerns me at present is Miss Musson's specific declaration, in the last sentence of her article, that I have a share in the aggregate right to rent, and that I can delegate this to the State. Here I have all that I want, - all that is necessary to the main purpose of my original criticism. Delegation of rights is an act of pure volition, and, as such, implies the power to refuse such delegation. Then, if I can delegate to the State my share in the aggregate right to rent, I can also decline to delegate it. Now, I do so decline. But Miss Musson has previously and fundamentally declared that a State can have no rights except those delegated to it by individuals. Therefore, since I refuse to delegate to the State my share in the aggregate right to rent, the State has no right to take my share in the aggregate right to rent. Q. E. D. And there is no escape from the demonstration. Miss Musson may as well "acknowledge the corn" first as last, and make her choice between individualism and the Single Tax. The two are incompatible.
I can readily forgive Mr. Byington for mistaking B for A in my answer to his question. Such a slip the most careful man may make at any time. But his more fundamental misconception of what the occupancy-and-use doctrine really is I find it more difficult, if not to pardon, at least to account for. Certainly in no writing of mine have I given him warrant for supposing me to hold that a man should be allowed a title to as much of the earth as he, in the course of his life, with the aid of all the workmen that he can employ, may succeed in covering with buildings. It is occupancy and use that Anarchism regards as the basis of land ownership, - not occupancy or use, as Mr. Byington seems to have understood. A man cannot be allowed, merely by putting labor, to the limit of his capacity and beyond the limit of his personal use, into material of which there is a limited supply and the use of which is essential to the existence of other men, to withhold that material from other men's use; and any contract based upon or involving such withholding is as lacking in sanctity or legitimacy as a contract to deliver stolen goods. As I have never held that freedom of contract includes a right to dispose of the property of others, I do not, in denying such right, "yield the sanctity of contract," as Mr. Byington puts it. Yes, the object of Anarchism is, sure enough, to let every man "control self and the results of self-exertion"; but this by no means implies that a man may store upon another's land the results of his self-exertion. If a man exerts himself by erecting a building on land which afterwards, by the operation of the principle of occupancy and use, rightful becomes another's, he must, upon the demand of the subsequent occupant, remove from this land the results of his self-exertion, or, failing so to do, sacrifice his property right therein. The man who persists in storing his property on another's premises is an invader, and it is his crime that alienates his control of this property. He is "fined one house," not "for building a house and then letting another man live in it, but for invading the premises of another. If there were nothing in the "Beauties of Government" to beat that, then indeed would government be a really beautiful thing.
The objection advanced by Mr. Byington that adherence to this principle must cause a degree of embarrassment to persons desirous of using an entire edifice for a period too to nobody, be forced to lower his prices also in order to retain his trade, - a thing which now he does not have to do because his rent-paying competitor cannot lower his prices? It is as clear as daylight.
The man who builds a cage over a sleeper prevents the sleeper from exercising his unquestionable right to step off of premises that belong to another, and therefore is an invader. The man who becomes by occupancy and use the owner of a previously unoccupied, unimproved, and unused passage, and in the exercise of his ownership blocks the passage, simply prevents other men from doing what they have no right to do, - that is, step on to premises that belong to another, and therefore is not an invader.
Mr. Byington's answer to my contention that there may be circumstances under which it is advisable to do violence to equal freedom amounts in its conclusion to a statement that no evil can be as disastrous as an act of invasion; that justice should be done though the heavens fall, for a precedent of injustice would lead to a worse disaster than the falling of the heavens; and that, if he were the guardian of a city most of whose inhabitants found themselves under the necessity of a choice between death by fire on the one hand and death by drowning on the other, he would not relieve them from this choice if he could do so only by violating the property rights of a portion of his fellow-citizens. Discussion is hopeless here.
In May, 1895, Mr. Louis F. Post delivered a lecture at Cincinnati on the Single Tax, in which he made the statement that occupancy and use was really the only true title to land. After the lecture, in reply to a question from one of his auditors, he explained that his advocacy of the Single Tax was as the best method of reaching the occupancy-and-use title. When Mr. Tucker's attention was called to Mr. Post's statement, be hailed it as very significant, since the other prominent champions of the Single Tax denied that the land belongs to the occupant and user and affirmed that all land belongs equally to all the people; and he stated that, if Mr. Post had not been misunderstood, the latter had taken a position which involved the rejection of the Single-Tax theory and pledged him to the Single Tax only as a measure of expediency and as a stepping-stone. Mr. Post replied that he did not mean to imply that he advocated the Single Tax as a stepping-stone in the sense of a temporary expedient, but as the only way of obtaining and maintaining the title of occupancy and use. That explanation called for the following from the editor of Liberty:
Mr Post admits the utterances attributed to him, and then proceeds to emasculate them. It appears that the phrase occupancy and use is used by Mr. Post simply as an equivalent to the right of possession. In that case it is nonsense to talk about the Single Tax or any other measure as the best method of reaching the occupancy-and-use title, for in Mr. Post's sense that title already exists. Today the occupant of land is its possessor, in right and in fact. The aim of the occupancy-and-use agitation is not to secure for the occupant a possession which is already his, but an ownership and control which in most cases is not his, but his landlord's, - an ownership and control which shall end when occupancy and use end, but which shall be absolute while occupancy and use continue.
In another part of his letter Mr. Post virtually denies the equivalence of occupancy with possession by declaring that landlords, even those who rent land and buildings in their entirety, are occupants and users. If this be true, then the Astor estate is occupying and using a very large portion of the city of New York. But to assert that the Astors are either occupants or possessors is an utter misuse of language. Besides, if the Astors are occupants and users, and if the Single Tax will virtually compel the Astors to relinquish their lands, then the Single Tax, instead of being a means of getting to an occupancy-and-use tenure, will be a means of destroying such tenure. Mr. Post's position bristles at every point with inconsistency and absurdity.
It is so long since I read Mr. George's book that I do not remember whether Mr. Post is right in denying that Mr. George teaches the doctrine of equal ownership of land by all the people. One thing, however, is certain, - that the equal right of all people to every piece of land is asserted by many of the foremost Single Taxers, some of whom are on the national executive committee of the party. And it is on the strength of this that the Single Tax is defended. How often we hear Single Taxers deploring the name by which their idea is known! "It is very unfortunate," they will tell you, "that our plan is called a tax. It is not a tax at all. We believe in the utter abolition of taxation. Taxation is robbery, - a taking from the producer of his product. We do not propose to rob; in collecting rent we take only what is ours, for that which comes, not from labor, but from land, belongs, not to the laborer, but to us, the people." If occupancy and use is not a title to land, then this position is sound; on the other hand, if it is a title to land, then the Single Tax is robbery. Mr. Post cannot escape from this dilemma.
If there must be Single Taxers, I prefer those of the Philadelphia sort, who attack occupancy and use with hammer and tongs, maintaining that it is unscientific and diametrically opposite to their fundamental principles. Relieve me, pray, of opponents like Mr. Post, who, using my own phraseology in a distorted sense, strive to make it appear to the people that their ideas are mine. Let Anarchists be on their guard. Don't bite at phrases.
In considering the letters of Mr. Alexander Horr, I notice at the outset that they betray a singular contradiction. In the first we are told that the occupancy-and-use theory of land tenure "has not risen to the dignity of respectable empiricism." In the second we are told that of the four systems of land tenure now advocated there are two which "deserve the most careful consideration," and that one of the two is the occupancy-and-use theory; The question arises: why does that which has not risen to the dignity of respectable empiricism deserve to be considered with care?
Mr. Horr complains of the indefiniteness with which the advocates of the occupancy-and-use theory explain it. My opinion is that the larger share of the indefiniteness regarding it that exists in his own mind is due to a failure on his part to weigh and understand what has been said in defense of the theory. In a recent conversation with me, Mr. Horr naively assumed the ownership by an Astor of the whole of Manhattan Island, and the renting of the same in parcels to tenants, as a possibility quite consistent with the occupancy-and-use theory and one which the theory's advocates would so regard. Such an assumption on his part showed beyond question that he has failed to consider the positions that have been taken in Liberty as to the nature of occupancy and use. These positions have been stated in English plain enough to be definitely grasped. If Mr. Horr had taken pains to understand them, he could not interpret the occupancy-and-use theory in a manner squarely contradictory of them. There will be no motive for Liberty to attempt a completer exposition of its doctrine for Mr. Horr's benefit, until he understands the perfectly definite things that Liberty has already said.
Agreeing to my claim that equal freedom is not a law, but simply a rule of social life which we find it expedient to follow, Mr. Horr asks me why, if it is expedient to enforce equal freedom in other things, it is not also expedient to enforce equal rights to the use of the earth. As appropriately might I ask him why it is not expedient to enforce equal rights to the use of brain power. Equal freedom as defined and advocated in Liberty covers only the control of self and the results of self-exertion. "Equal rights in other things" is a phrase of Mr. Horr's coinage. I uphold equal freedom, as I define it, because it secures individuality, the definition and encouragement of which are essential to social development and prosperity and to individual happiness. I oppose Mr. Horr's policy loosely described as "equal rights in other things" because it tends to obliterate individuality. The enforcement of equal rights to the use of the earth, for instance, by a single tax on land values means a confiscation of a portion of the individual's product, a denial of the liberty to control the results of self-exertion, and hence a trampling upon individuality. If an equal distribution or common ownership of wealth, with the accompanying destruction of individuality, is a good thing, then let us become Communists at once, and confiscate every excess, whether its source be land value, brain value, or some other value. If. on the other hand, the protection of the individual is the thing paramount and the main essential of happiness, then let us defend the equal liberty of individuals to control self and the results of self-exertion, and let other equalities take care of themselves.
An instance of the peculiar manner in which Mr. Horr interprets his opponent's utterances may be seen in his comments on Mr. Yarros's statement that, while voluntary taxation of economic rent might not be a good thing, "the use of force to bring it about would be extremely unwise." Mr. Horr thinks that this statement is "not quite clear." It is true that it is not quite exact. Mr. Yarros had better have said "the use of force to effect it," or, more simply still, "the enforcement of it," than "the use of force to bring it about." But even from the sentence as it stands it seems to me that no intelligent reader should have failed to extract the evident meaning that, though men might well agree to pay rent into a common treasury, no man should be forced to do so. Yet Mr. Horr takes it to mean that force should not be used to collect rent in special and abnormal cases. I do not see the slightest warrant for this extraordinary and senseless construction of Mr. Yarros's words.
Mr. Horr defends State collection of rent on the ground that, if equal rights to land be admitted, "all men have a right to collect rent from those who use better than free land, because each individual would collect such rent himself, if he had the power." Logic does not warrant the inference. I showed clearly, in my discussion with Miss Musson, that, even granting Single-Tax ethics, still State collection of every individual's share of rent, without delegation by each individual of his right to collect, cannot be advocated consistently by any individualist. The fact that an individual would collect the rent rightfully due him, if he had the power, does not warrant another man, or all other men, in proceeding unauthorized to collect this rent. There are some creditors who believe that the State should not collect debts. Would Mr. Horr claim that the State is entitled to collect the debts due these creditors, regardless of their wishes in the matter? Now rent is nothing but a debt, under Single-Tax ethics. Consequently any parties who contract for the collection of their rents in common must see to it that they collect only their own shares of the total rent due. If they collect other people's shares, even the Single Taxer, if he be an individualist, is bound to consider them thieves.
All that Mr. Horr has to say about the difficulty of sustaining an occupancy-and-use system by jury decisions is based on silly and gratuitous assumptions. In the first place, it is pure assumption to say that juries will be recruited solely from taxpayers. No believer in the original form of jury trial as explained by Spooner ever advanced such a proposition. In the second place, it is pure assumption to say that, when taxation is voluntary, only land-owners will pay taxes, because they alone benefit by the expenditure of the taxes. It is not true that they alone benefit. Every individual benefits whose life, liberty, and property is protected. In the third place, it is pure assumption to say that juror!! do not, in the main, render verdicts in accordance with their own conceptions of equity and social living. A jury of thieves is quite as likely as a jury of honest men to convict a prisoner justly accused of theft. Now, no advocate of occupancy-and-use tenure of land believes that it can be put in force, until as a theory it has been as generally, or almost as generally, seen and accepted as is the prevailing theory of ordinary private property. But, when the theory has been thus accepted, jurors may be relied on, in the main, to render verdicts in accordance therewith, no matter what their status or situation in life. Were it not so, no society would be possible.
Mr. Horr finally defends the Single Tax, against the objection that under it the land occupant is at the mercy of the community, by claiming that "changes due to social growth which are just as inevitable as any other phenomena of nature must be submitted to." I suppose, then, that, because I must submit to the tornado that destroys my crop, I must also submit to the depredations of people who choose to settle in my vicinity and then rob me of a part of my crop by what they call a tax on my land value. Well, of course I must, if my fellow-citizens all turn thieves, - that is, Single Taxers. Consequently I am trying to persuade them to be honest.
From : Flag.Blackened.net
No comments so far. You can be the first!
<< Last Work in Individual Liberty
Current Work in Individual Liberty
Part 05, Chapter 06
Next Work in Individual Liberty >>
All Nearby Works in Individual Liberty