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Land monopoly is not the only monopoly, but it is by far the
greatest of monopolies -- it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is
the mother of all other forms of monopoly.
Unearned increments in land are not the only form of
unearned or undeserved profit, but they are the principal form of
unearned increment, and they are derived from processes which are
not merely not beneficial, but positively detrimental to the
Land, which is a necessity of human existence, which is the
original source of all wealth, which is strictly limited in
extent, which is fixed in geographical position -- land, I say,
differs from all other forms of property, and the immemorial
customs of nearly every modern state have placed the tenure,
transfer, and obligations of land in a wholly different category
from other classes of property.
Nothing is more amusing than to watch the efforts of land
monopolists to claim that other forms of property and increment
are similar in all respects to land and the unearned increment on
They talk of the increased profits of a doctor or lawyer
from the growth of population in the town in which they live.
They talk of the profits of a railway, from the growing wealth
and activity in the districts through which it runs. They talk
of the profits from a rise in stocks and even the profits derived
from the sale of works of art.
But see how misleading and false all those analogies are.
The windfalls from the sale of a picture -- a Van Dyke or a
Holbein -- may be very considerable. But pictures do not get in
anybody's way. They do not lay a toll on anybody's labor; they
do not touch enterprise and production; they do not affect the
creative processes on which the material well-being of millions
If a rise in stocks confers profits on the fortunate holders
far beyond what they expected or indeed deserved, nevertheless
that profit was not reaped by withholding from the community the
land which it needs; on the contrary, it was reaped by supplying
industry with the capital without which it could not be carried
If a railway makes greater profits it is usually because it
carries more goods and more passengers.
If a doctor or a lawyer enjoys a better practice, it is
because the doctor attends more patients and more exacting
patients, and because the lawyer pleads more suits in the courts
and more important suits. At every stage the doctor or the
lawyer is giving service in return for his fees.
Fancy comparing these healthy processes with the enrichment
which comes to the landlord who happens to own a plot of land on
the outskirts of a great city, who watches the busy population
around him making the city larger, richer, more convenient, more
famous every day, and all the while sits still and does
Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved,
electric light turns night into day, water is brought from
reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains -- and all the
while the landlord sits still. Every one of those
improvements is effected by the labor and cost of other people
and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does
the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by
every one of them the value of his land is enhanced.
He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to
the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from
which his own enrichment is derived.
While the land is what is called "ripening" for the unearned
increment of its owner, the merchant going to his office and the
artisan going to his work must detour or pay a fare to avoid it.
The people lose their chance of using the land, the city and
state lose the taxes which would have accrued if the natural
development had taken place, and all the while the land
monopolist only has to sit still and watch complacently his
property multiplying in value, sometimes many fold, without
either effort or contribution on his part!
But let us follow this process a little further. The
population of the city grows and grows, the congestion in the
poorer quarters becomes acute, rents rise and thousands of
families are crowded into tenements. At last the land becomes
ripe for sale -- that means that the price is too tempting to be
resisted any longer. And then, and not until then, it is sold by
the yard or by the inch at 10 times, or 20 times, or even 50
times its agricultural value.
The greater the population around the land, the greater the
injury the public has sustained by its protracted denial. And,
the more inconvenience caused to everybody; the more serious the
loss in economic strength and activity -- the larger will be the
profit of the landlord when the sale is finally accomplished. In
fact, you may say that the unearned increment on the land is
reaped by the land monopolist in exact proportion, not to the
service, but to the disservice done. It is monopoly
which is the keynote, and where monopoly prevails, the greater
the injury to society the greater the reward to the monopolist.
This evil process strikes at every form of industrial
activity. The municipality, wishing for broader streets, better
houses, more healthy, decent, scientifically planned towns, is
made to pay more to get them in proportion as is has exerted
itself to make past improvements. The more it has improved the
town, the more it will have to pay for any land it may now wish
to acquire for further improvements.
The manufacturer proposing to start a new industry,
proposing to erect a great factory offering employment to
thousands of hands, is made to pay such a price for his land that
the purchase price hangs around the neck of his whole business,
hampering his competitive power in every market, clogging him far
more than any foreign tariff in his export competition, and the
land price strikes down through the profits of the manufacturer
on to the wages of the worker.
No matter where you look or what examples you select, you
will see every form of enterprise, every step in material
progress, is only undertaken after the land monopolist has
skimmed the cream for himself, and everywhere today the man
or the public body that wishes to put land to its highest use is
forced to pay a preliminary fine in land values to the man who is
putting it to an inferior one, and in some cases to no use at
all. All comes back to land value, and its owner is able
to levy toll upon all other forms of wealth and every form of
A portion, in some cases the whole, of every benefit which
is laboriously acquired by the community increases the land value
and finds its way automatically into the landlord's pocket. If
there is a rise in wages, rents are able to move forward, because
the workers can afford to pay a little more. If the opening of a
new railway or new tramway, or the institution of improved
services of a lowering of fares, or of a new invention, or any
other public convenience affords a benefit to workers in any
particular district, it becomes easier for them to live, and
therefore the ground landlord is able to charge them more for the
privilege of living there.
Some years ago in London there was a toll bar on a bridge
across the Thames, and all the working people who lived on the
south side of the river had to pay a daily toll of one penny for
going and returning from their work. The spectacle of these poor
people thus mulcted of so large a proportion of their earnings
offended the public conscience, and agitation was set on foot,
municipal authorities were roused, and at the cost of the
taxpayers, the bridge was freed and the toll removed. All
those people who used the bridge were saved sixpence a week, but
within a very short time rents on the south side of the river
were found to have risen about sixpence a week, or the amount of
the toll which had been remitted!
And a friend of mine was telling me the other day that, in
the parish of Southwark, about 350 pounds a year was given away
in doles of bread by charitable people in connection with one of
the churches. As a consequence of this charity, the competition
for small houses and single-room tenements is so great that rents
are considerably higher in the parish!
All goes back to the land, and the land owner is able to
absorb to himself a share of almost every public and every
private benefit, however important or however pitiful those
benefits may be.
I hope you will understand that, when I speak of the land
monopolist, I am dealing more with the process than with the
individual land owner who, in most cases, is a worthy person
utterly unconscious of the character of the methods by which he
is enriched. I have no wish to hold any class up to public
disapprobation. I do not think that the man who makes money by
unearned increment in land is morally worse than anyone else who
gathers his profit where he finds it in this hard world under the
law and according to common usage. It is not the individual I
attack; it is the system. It is not the man who is bad; it is
the law which is bad. It is not the man who is blameworthy for
doing what the law allows and what other men do; it is the State
which would be blameworthy if it were not to endeavor to reform
the law and correct the practice.
We do not want to punish the landlord. We want to alter the