The Natural Economic Order/Part I/Chapter 6

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When freeland is spoken of we first think of the vast tracts of uncultivated land in North and South America. This freeland is easily and comparatively cheaply reached. The climate is suitable for Europeans, the social conditions are to many people attractive; the security of life and property is fair. On his arrival the immigrant is accommodated for a week or two in a hostel for immigrants at the expense of the State, and in some countries he is given a free railway ticket to the farthest limit of settled land. Here he is free to settle immediately. He may pick out the site he likes best: pasture, ploughland or forest. The homestead that he has a right to claim is extensive enough to provide work for the largest family. As soon as the settler has driven in the boundary stakes and notified the land-office, he may start work. Nobody interferes with him or even inquires who allowed him to till the earth and reap the fruits of his industry. He is lord of the land between his four stakes.

Land of this kind we call freeland of the first class. Such freeland is not of course to be found in settled parts, but only where men are few and far between. Within the tracts already occupied there are, however, large areas that are not cultivated, but which by some abuse of State-power have become the private property of individuals living in some far-off place. A few thousand persons living in Europe own between them hundreds of millions of acres of such land situated in America, Africa, Australia and Asia. Anyone wishing to occupy a piece of this land has to come to terms with the proprietors, but as a rule he may buy or rent what he desires for a nominal sum. Whether he does or does not pay a few pence an acre annually for the land he intends to cultivate can make no appreciable difference in the proceeds of his labour. Such conditionally freeland we call freeland of the second class.

Freeland of the first and the second classes is still to be found in abundance in every part of the world outside Europe. It is not always land of the best quality. Much of it is densely overgrown with forests needing a great deal of labour to clear. Large areas suffer from lack of water and can be made fertile only by expensive irrigation schemes. Other land again, often of the best quality, has to be drained; or being situated in remote valleys lacks means of communication without which exchange of the produce is impossible. Freeland of this kind can be taken up only by emigrants possessing capital or credit. For the theory of rent and of wages, however, it does not matter whether this freeland is brought under cultivation by a company of capitalists or by the emigrants directly. The distinction only affects capital and its interests. If the emigrant settles on land which has been opened up in this way, that is, with the help of capital, he has to pay the customary interest on the capital invested, and he must add this interest to his working expenses.

For individuals or companies themselves possessing the means necessary for land-reclamation on a larger scale half the world is still freeland. The best land in California and along the Rocky Mountains was until lately a desert; now it is a vast garden. The British have made Egypt habitable for millions of men by means of the Nile dams. The Zuider-Zee and many deserts such as Mesopotamia will also be brought into cultivation again by a similar expenditure of capital. Thus we may say that freeland of the second class will be at the disposal of mankind for an indefinite period to come.