The Only Way With the Land.
Being the Socialist Way. (From 1912)
But do not let it be forgotten that a comparatively high land-tax might easily be paid and the land still be put to very bad uses. The community cannot control the use of land without owning the land itself. Imagine the army of inspectors that would be required to go all over the country, survey every field and moor and bog, and make themselves responsible for the rotation of crops, refusing to let the landlord or the farmer put a field under grass, and refusing to allow the Duke of Sutherland to let a tract of land in Sutherlandshire for shooting. Does anybody suppose that the Duke would turn off good rent-paying farmers and let his ground for less money to an American millionaire for sport. Is it likely? Whoever heard of a man deliberately choosing to sell his goods in the cheapest market?
Land used for grouse, or thrown back from crop-raising to the feeding of sheep, is perhaps land improperly used; but to stop this would require a vast system of inspection and inquisition, involving an amount of labour which would be much better directed into useful channels. With our Customs, Excise, dog licences, gun licences, income tax assessors, factory and shop inspectors, mine inspectors, inspectors of ladders and scaffoldings, smoke inspectors, insurance inspectors, attendance officers, inspectors of explosives, of food and drugs, and of shipping, we spend too much on the policing of Individualism, and are yet all too improperly policed in the interests of efficiency or for that matter bare humanity.
If for the motive of personal gain were substituted the motive of public efficiency we could take all our inspectors off and trust to Collective control securing automatically in an ideal way and to an ideal extent the ends for which all our inspection and inquiry and registration are carried on in vain. All our policing does not prevent the message boy from staggering under a basket-load of provisions towards midnight on a Saturday, and does not prevent our milk being handed in at seven in the morning by a pale little boy or girl who will be at school later in the day, with lessons to be done in the evening. But if the distribution of milk or groceries were done from municipal centres men would be employed, early closing would be the rule, and the children would be at home in bed both at 7 a.m. and long before 11.30 p.m. A public department would be ashamed to live on the labour of children; but not so the miserable little man, carrying on a miserable little business in a miserable shop behind a miserable little counter, who is the essential type of the Individualism which Messrs Wedgwood, Fels, and Outhwaite admire and seek to preserve.
The Only Way.
There is only one satisfactory way with the land, and that is the way of public ownership secured by purchase. That way the Government is already finding, on a large scale in Ireland, as it has already found it on a small scale in Britain. It seeks a solution on the lines, not of peasant proprietorship, as was done by the Wyndham Act, but on the lines of owner ship by the State and security of tenure on the part of the cultivator, who will neither be penalised for his improvements by an increase of rent, nor be liable to ejection at the caprice of a landlord. The State thus far solves, or is about to solve, the problem by becoming the landlord. Rent very naturally and properly varies with the fertility of the land, its proximity to markets, and other causes which contribute to its value. This rent belongs in equity to the community, and under State ownership will, of course, go to the nation .
But this, after all, means only the nationalization of the rent, not of the land itself. That would require the supersession of the capitalist farmer by the community, the socialization of his profits as well as the landlord's rent, and it would mean, as a most important incident, the proper cultivation of the soil. Farming would be carried on upon the big scale, gangs of workers going forth to their cheerful, sociable labour in the fields, and the work going on, as Burns says, "wi' sangs and clatter." Thus and thus only can the community get the full and proper benefit of its own land, which can no more be farmed out with advantage than the taxes were. And only by making field-work sociable can it be divested of its loneliness and dulness the loneliness and dulness that have so much to do with driving the rural population into the towns. One has seen a quite good-natured ploughman of a lively temperament curse at his horses all day, pull the reins viciously, and even throw clods at the heads of these poor animals, not so much because they were working badly as because he was bored to death at the solitary work. The same man-foreman on a biggish farm-was as brisk and cheery as possible in the hayfield with plenty of company, often of both sexes. A ploughing match is a gala day, largely because there are comrades in competition and others looking on, with whom chaff and talk can be exchanged.
Peasant husbandry does nothing to introduce this atmosphere of sociability and emulation in work, and this is only one of its drawbacks. Unnecessary fences, duplicated farm buildings, duplicated implements of every kind would be the order of the day under a system of small farms. Even if the small farmers co-operated to the fullest extent, field work is largely a matter of times and seasons and weather, and all the small holders of the parish could not have the reaper-and-binder on one day, nor the steam mill in one week. Co-operation does wonders in Denmark ; but all nations are not equally cooperative in spirit, and even in Denmark there are doubtless small holders who under the pinch of poverty have to sell corn or cattle in a bad market just to get the money; and this, not to the advantage of the public, but merely to the profit of some merchant or butcher who can tempt the poor man with ready money. There will, no doubt, be a place for small cultivators for some time yet ; but the large council farm, carried on with the best implements, buildings, cattle, skill, plenty of labour, and a short working day, represents the agriculture of the future and the only agriculture in which the rights of the public will be safeguarded.
Taxation is no substitute for public responsibility and efficiency in administration. If the day of the small struggling farmer, like the day of the small struggling shopkeeper, has not passed, the sooner it passes the better. But the Georgite Individualist s do not recognise this. They are all for the multiplication of small vested interests. The Government is so far proceeding on similar lines; not by taxation indeed, but by the creation of a class of over-industrious and hopelessly narrow-minded peasants who are undone by "the magic of ownership." How that magic works in transforming men into absolute serfs of the soil may be seen in Shaw's portrait of Matthew Halligan in "John Bull's Other Island." Matthew has secured under the Land Purchase Act a miserable tract of land on which he has worked himself crooked in body and crabbed in mind -an opponent of all change or improvement and an in tensely disagreeable man generally. The small holdings legislation of the present Government does not make for peasant proprietorship of the land, but it does make for the creation of a class of small capitalist farmers, who will almost inevitably become hard reactionaries just in proportion to their blighting "success." There is no defender of the status quo and the rights of property so bitter or so bigoted as the small capitalist, especially if he be mortgaged to the neck.
With a Liberal Government adopting public ownership of Irish land, repudiating the peasant proprietorship of the Wyndham Act, stopping the sale of Crown Lands, and actually buying a Lincolnshire estate for experimental purposes, the idea of collectivist farming is brought sensibly nearer. Already Glasgow makes municipal farming pay on a fairly large scale, Bradford city discusses the advisability of starting dairy farming, and a number of Poor Law and Asylum authorities are proving that farming may be made to pay without the "magic of ownership " and even with the not specially suitable labour of paupers and the mildly insane. All this, I repeat, is in the true line of agrarian evolution as opposed to dog-in-the-manger taxing-a spirit which seeks to shun responsibility for the management of the land while still claiming a share of the fruits of other people's management.
This spirit of Individualistic aloofness would find itself defeated by its own success. If it succeeded in imposing the taxation it contemplates, the land would be thrown upon its hands, and a Single-Tax Administration would have to administer the land whether it would or no. This is not the Georgite idea, some of whose exponents have declared (Louis Post in the official journal, The Standard, for one) that they would wish to leave the land in the hands of the present owners, allowing them a moiety of the rent to compensate them for their administration of it. But the owners do not administer it. All the larger and many of the smaller estates are managed by agents, with a staff of clerks, and the owners would mostly have neither the ability nor the industry for estate administration. Any how, Mr. Outhwaite declares that he is for 20s. in the £ of taxation upon the land. All this is pure Imposibilism, a waste of time, and an abandonment of the only lines upon which progress with the land question can be made. In spite of the schemes of purchase already mentioned, the land question is really a question of local governnent. In Germany the great test of the goodness or otherwise of local government is the extent to which the local authority acquires land. Since the time of Goethe at least that has been the watchword in German civic life. In private we ask: Is So-and-so doing any good? By which we mean is he acquiring money or property. That is a better test for the community than it is for the individual. It has operated so beneficially in Germany that we read of rural communities which not only defray all the expenses of local government out of the revenues from the communal lands, but actually distribute wood, turf; and even money to householders as their share of the proceed s of the communal estate.
Whereas in this country so little intelligent or active interest is taken in local government that many men who have not the excuse of being "large ratepayers " actually propose that the expense of rehousing the working class shall be put upon inperial taxation. A "large ratepayer" must have started this proposal; for rates are mostly paid by the well-to-do, while taxes are mostly paid by the working class.
Some thirty years ago municipal housing schemes were started here and there up and down the country, and all of them have done well. Despite the low rents which have ruled, these properties have paid interest and sinking-fund charges, have been well let, are in demand by tenants, and if in some cases a slight burden has been put upon the rates, we can't expect to get houses for nothing. The stone-and-lime is there as an asset, and I have investigated cases where an extra sixpence put on the weekly rents would still have left them quite moderate, and would have obviated the trilling deficit.
If we want the land we must pay for it. If we want houses we must pay for them. There is no way of getting anything for nothing. We may feed the dog with his own tail by creating land scrip, just as it is proposed to get rid of the railway shareholders by creating railway bonds, and redeeming them out of the profits gradually.
And we must not only pay but work for the civic re-awakening in local government. At present, with a Liberal Administration attempting so much, the tendency is to look to Parliament to do everything that is required in the sphere of public affairs. The return of a Labour Party in 1906 helped to confirm this impression that all social reconstruction was an affair of Parliam entary politics. The result is that there is less Collectivist initiative among the municipalities now than there was in the eighties and nineties, when nobody was afraid of Socialism, and things that seemed good were done on the merits whether they were Collectivist or not. Since 1890 two Housing Acts have been passed, and the facilities for municipal house building are greater than ever they were and the house famine is more acute than ever it was. Yet there is more disinclination to embark on housing schemes than there was when money was dearer, when the period of reparement was shorter. Housing schemes adopted as far back as 1882, and successful ever since, arc not added to. There is a dread of the word Socialism, and the impression is rife that the Government will take the responsibility of financing housing schemes. Nothing can be clearer than that housing is a matter of municipal concern and that any expense put upon the State must come back upon the taxpayer. There is no vestige of a plea to justify the placing of house-building upon the Government. The people to be housed are locally employed. They help to increase local trade. They are rated for local purposes. They live within town and city and urban district boundaries. They are in the locality, they are of the locality, it is the locality that gets the first and chief benefit from them. Municipalties are always anxious to extend their boundaries and increase their population and their rateable value; and it is just like middle-class audacity to want to appropriate the advantages of population while shirking the most elementary responsibility of housing it.
Meanwhile Mr. Lloyd George utters a weekly threat of something tremendous which is to be done about the Land System, but has never once condescended upon particulars. When the landlords find the name of Earl Beauchamp associated with his in the oft-threatened, long-delayed crusade they need not expect anything very drastic.
Meanwhile also the Land-Tax party in Parliament practises an occasional hold-up of other measures in the interests of its own particular fad, which cannot possibly come to anything useful in their hands.
As a road to social felicity the Single Tax is not only a blind alley, but has a dead wall at this end as well as the other-the nearest wall being the vested interests, including the vested interests of the working class, much of whose savings are invested in land. Single-Tax Individualism will not do, but Collective Ownership is the biggest and most successful thing in public life.
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