The Natural Economic Order/Part II/Chapter 4
|Part II, Chapter 3|| The Natural Economic Order
Part II. Chapter 4. Effects of Nationalisation of the Land
written by Silvio Gesell, translated by Philip Pye
|Part II, Chapter 5|
We shall not have to wait for the effects of land nationalisation until the last certificate of the nationalisation loan is redeemed and burnt, for they will appear on the day on which expropriation is decreed by law. And the effect of nationalisation will be first manifested in Parliament and politics.
Like the builders of the tower of Babel, Parliamentary representatives will suddenly no longer recognise each other. They will return to their homes transformed men, with new and higher aims. The thing they stood for hitherto, the thing they upheld or attacked, for which they collected a thousand weighty or frivolous arguments no longer exists. By a stroke of magic the reeking battle-field of political strife has been converted into a peaceful graveyard. No advantage can now be derived by private individuals from rent, and what was Parliament but a Stock-Exchange where bears and bulls growled and bellowed over the rise and fall of rent on land? "A betting-den for higher tariffs", so it was termed by one who took part in its debates. It is a fact that latterly the proceedings of Parliament have turned almost exclusively on matters either directly or indirectly affecting rent on land.
Rent on land is the starting point for all legislation initiated by the Government; it is the axis on which the thoughts of the party in power consciously or unconsciously turn, in Germany and everywhere else. If rent on land is safe, all is well.
The long and sordid debates on the wheat-duties turned upon rent on land. All the difficulties in connection with the German commercial treaties were created by landed interests. During the protracted deliberations about the German Midland Canal it was the opposition of the landowners that had to be overcome. All the small natural liberties that we enjoy today, such as freedom of movement and settlement, the abolition of slavery and serfdom, had to be won from the landlords by force of arms, for the landlords used powder and shot to defend their interests. The long and murderous civil war in the United States was simply a struggle against landlords. The opposition to every kind of progress proceeds from the landlords; if it depended on them, freedom of movement and settlement and universal suffrage would long since have been sacrificed for the benefit of rent on land. Schools, universities and the Church were from the outset subordinated to the landowners' interests.
With nationalisation of the land all these troubles instantaneously disappear. Agrarian politics will melt like snow in the sun of liberation of the soil. With the abolition of private property in land every private pecuniary interest in politics vanishes into thin air. No one will be able to fill his pockets in Parliament. And politics that are no longer inspired by private interests, but by solicitude for the common weal, are not politics but, as we said, applied science. The representatives of the people will go deeply into the affairs of the State; they will be obliged to adopt methods of work which rule out passion and to examine sober matters soberly with the help of expert knowledge and statistics.
But as well as the politics of the landlords, the politics of their opponents will also become superfluous. Why were the Socialists, the Liberals, the Democrats delegated to the Reichstag? Simply to protect the interests of the people against the predatory instincts of the landlords. But defenders become superfluous when aggressors disappear. The whole liberal party programme will be realised as a matter of course with liberation of the land. Nobody will think of questioning or criticising this programme, or even of examining it for everybody is at heart a liberal. What was reaction, what was the conservative party programme? It was rent on land and nothing else.
With the nationalisation of the land even the reactionary landowners of yesterday will think liberally and progressively. They were men like the rest of us, neither better nor worse; they were keen on their interests, as is every normal individual. They were not a race apart. They were united, merely by their common material interest which is, however, a bond of great strength. With nationalisation of the land the land-owning class will become merged in the great mass. Even the junkers of yesterday will become democrats, for what is a junker without land? Landed property and aristocracy are one and the same thing. You can read in the face of an aristocrat how many acres of land he owns, and the amount of his rental.
So what function remains for party politicians ? Everything will become so simple and natural when rent on land no longer stands in the way of every innovation. "Open the road to progress" was the slogan of liberalism, and now the road is really open. Legislation will nowhere clash with private interests. Liquid capital will indeed continue to exist, it will even be increased by many billions through the conversion of landed capital into liquid capital (State securities). But liquid capital being transferable from one country to another, is international and subject to laws quite different from those of landed capital. Politics can render no service to liquid capital. (This proposition will be more fully explained and substantiated when we come to study the theory of interest). Liquid capital, moreover, being subject to the competition of foreign countries, must be on the alert for progress in every direction, and is therefore inevitably forced into the path of liberty.
With the abolition of private property in land the political antagonism of town and country will cease, and both will join in striving for the same aims. If, for instance, agriculture were for any reason placed in a privileged position, workers would desert industry for agriculture, and by competition at the public auctions of leases force up farm-rents, until the special privilege of agriculture again disappeared, and the equilibrium between the proceeds of labour in industry and agriculture was restored. Special privileges attaching to industrial work would disappear in the same manner. For the land would be at the disposal of everybody on equal terms. After nationalisation of the land agriculture and industry can never find their interests in conflict. Agriculture and industry will for the first time be fused into a homogeneous economic and political entity, an overwhelming majority, with which everything, and against which nothing, can be attained.
It would lead us too far afield to discuss in detail all the effects of land nationalisation in the sphere of politics, but the foregoing general discussion suffices to show that with nationalisation of the land, party politics or, indeed, politics of any kind in the present sense of the word will disappear; for politics as we know them and rent on land are identical. Parliament will not indeed become superfluous, but it will be called upon to solve very different problems - problems from which the private interests of individuals will be wholly excluded. Scientific sessions will be held, and instead of sending to Parliament representatives who have to decide a great number of heterogeneous questions and in the end come to assume competence in everything, we shall elect experts for each special question. In this way each question will be settled by expert and scientific methods. What is demanded of a member of Parliament today ? He must pronounce on army and navy, on school and religion, arts and sciences, medicine (compulsory vaccination), commerce, railways, post-office, game laws, agriculture, and what not. Our omniscient representatives must even decide matters of currency policy (for example the introduction of the gold standard), although 99% of them have not the faintest notion what money is, or what it ought to be. Is it fair to blame these harried persons for not possessing expert knowledge about anything? These jacks-of-all-trades will vanish with the nationalisation of the land, and the people will choose as their representatives experts whose legislative powers will be confined to one special question. And with the settlement of this question their power will come to an end.
Nationalisation of the land will affect social conditions no less profoundly than politics, and here again from the moment that expropriation is decreed.
The consciousness that all men and women have now an equal right to their native soil will inspire them with pride and be expressed in their looks. Everyone will hold up his head and even State employees will lose their attitude of tame submission. They will all know that they have a safe refuge in the soil, a faithful mother offering her protection to those in adversity. For the land will be at the disposal of all, on equal terms for everyone, rich or poor, man or woman, capable of cultivating the soil.
Here it will probably be objected that even at present there is no lack of opportunity of renting and cultivating the soil. It must not, however, be forgotten that rent on land at present goes into the pockets of private persons, and that consequently everyone has to work cruelly hard to earn his living. With nationalisation of the land, rent on land will go into the public treasury and so benefit everyone directly in the form of State services. In this way the work necessary to earn a living will be reduced; it will suffice, to cultivate six or seven acres instead of ten, so many an official whose health has suffered in the city air will be able to earn his bread as a farmer. This development will of course be still more marked when, in consequence of the money reform to be described later, capital-interest disappears. Four acres will then suffice where to-day ten have to be cultivated.
This economic strength and economic independence will of course change the whole relationship of man to man; manners, customs, speech and character will become freer and nobler.
After abolition of private ownership of rent, and still more after abolition of capital-interest, every healthy woman will be able to earn her living and that of her children in agriculture. If three acres instead of ten suffice for this purpose, a woman's strength will suffice where today a man's full strength is required. And would not the return of woman to agriculture be the happiest solution of the problem of "feminism" ?
A proposal has been made to pay mothers a national rent for their services in rearing their children, a rent equivalent to the use of the soil by primitive woman. It is proposed to pay these mothers' rents from rent on land, in opposition to the proposal of Henry George by which rent on land would be used for the remission of taxation.
There is much to recommend this proposal. In the first place rent is ultimately the creation of the mothers, since it is they who create the population which gives rise to rent. On the principle of "suum cuique" mothers have undoubtedly the strongest claim to rent on land. And we are led to the same conclusion if we compare primitive woman who commands, like a queen, all the gifts of nature about her, with the poverty-stricken women of our proletariat. The comparison shows that with us rent on land is stolen from the mothers. Among the primitive peoples of Asia, Africa and America there is no mother so utterly destitute of all natural resources as the proletariat women of Europe. The primitive worn an owns her whole surroundings. She takes wood for her fire where she finds it, and builds herself a hut where she chooses. Her hens, geese, goats, kine, feed around the hut. Her dog guards the cradle. One boy takes trout from the brook; in the garden the older children sow and reap, others come back from the forest with firewood and berries; the eldest son brings in the deer he has killed on the mountain. And in the place of all these natural gifts we have enthroned the obese, inert, ignoble figure of the rentier. To imagine the situation of a pregnant proletarian woman, who has nothing in all nature around her on which she can lay her child, is to realise that if with our present economic system we cannot do without boundaries and rents, these rents belong by right to the mothers.
According to calculations, the data for which, it is true, are at present incomplete, about $12 a month could be distributed out of rent on land for every child below the age of fifteen. With this support and the relief from the present interest-tribute, every woman would be able to bring up her children in the country without being forced to depend on the financial support of man. Economic considerations would no longer be able to crush the spirit out of women. In sexual matters her inclinations, wishes and instincts would decide. A woman would then be free to consider the mental, physical and race-improving qualities, and not merely the money-bags of her mate. Women would thus recover the right to choose their mates, the great right of natural selection, which is something vastly more important for them than the illusory right of choosing their political representatives.
With nationalisation of the land everyone will have at his disposal the whole soil of his country, and when nationalisation becomes universal, the soil of the whole world. Compared to that the kings of today are beggars. Every newborn babe, legitimate or illegitimate, will have 195,550,000 square-miles, 125,792 million acres of land at his disposal. And everyone will have the right to move freely and settle anywhere; no one will be bound to the soil like a plant. Those whose native air does not agree with them, who dislike the society in which they are placed, or who for any other reason desire a change of abode, may cancel their lease-contract and move on. In this way the German peasants who, as in the times of serfdom, cling to the soil and have never seen further than their church-towers, will be set in motion and made acquainted with new customs, new methods of work, new thoughts. The different peoples will learn to know each other and to see that no people is any better than any other people, that the social life hitherto created by all of them is vicious and discreditable. And since men as a rule are more ashamed of their vices among strangers than at home among friends and relations, it may be expected that intercourse with strangers will purify and ennoble morals.
Nationalisation of the land penetrates into the depths of human nature to transmute and remould it. A slavish spirit still exists among men since the period of serfdom (among masters no less than among serfs) simply because private property in land, the foundation of slavery, still exists. This slavish spirit will disappear finally with the disappearance of landed property. Man will again stand erect just as a young fir-tree, relieved from the weight of snow, swings back vigorously to its natural poise. "Man is free even though born in fetters", says Schiller. Man adapts himself to every influence, and every gain during the process of adaptation is transmitted to the coming generations. But servility cannot be inherited, so the disappearance of private property in land will leave no scar in the moral tissue of the slaves.
From the economically-founded and therefore genuine, deep-rooted liberty resulting from nationalisation of the land we are justified in expecting the fruits of civilisation that we had formerly looked for in vain. Political peace within our frontiers will be reflected abroad, as inner peace of the soul is reflected in the face of man. The brutal and vulgar tone, inevitable when social relations have been perverted by rent on land, is transferred to political life and poisons our relations with foreign countries. The never-ending conflict of interests resulting from private ownership of land has accustomed us to see an enemy in every neighbour and in every neighbouring nation - enemies we must prepare to oppose by arms. For nations do not at present face one another as men and brothers, but as landlords. If private ownership of land is abolished in two countries the only possible cause of strife between them disappears. Instead of envious landgrabbers we shall then be men with nothing to lose from mutual intercourse and everything to gain, namely enrichment of our professional activity, our religion, our art, our manner of thinking, our morality and legislation. When the land is nationalised, no private individual will derive any profit from higher rents, and if such is the case in the neighbouring countries also, there will be no one to derive any advantage from import-duties which at present embitter international relations, create dissension, instigate defensive measures and cause such confusion that the nations are driven to war to preserve their status. With nationalisation of the land, and still more with the money reform to be described later, free trade will be a matter of course. And if free trade is allowed to expand and gather force for a few decades, men will come to understand how intimately the welfare of the nations is bound up with it. The whole people will then take anxious care to cultivate friendly relations with neighbouring countries; families will begin to have ties of kinship across the border, friendship between artists, scholars, scientists, workmen, merchants and religious leaders will form the peoples of the world into a league of nations which time and common interests will consolidate. Without private property in rent, there can be no war, because there win be no customs-barriers. Nationalisation of the land means universal free trade and universal peace.
The effect of such a land reform on war and peace has so far been only superficially studied. This is as yet an unexplored domain which the German land reformers have never penetrated. There is here rich material for a comprehensive work. Who will assume the task? Gustav Simons, Ernst Frankfurth and Paulus Klüpfel, who had prepared themselves thoroughly for this labour, and were the right men to undertake it, have been carried off by death in the midst of their activity.
In "Free-Land, the Fundamental Condition of Peace", I have traced the bare outline of this great problem.
With regard to the general law of wages it only remains to be said that after nationalisation of the land and cancellation of the debt contracted for that purpose
and the total proceeds of labour will then be equal to the total product of labour, less capital-interest.
- The State could and should be completely relieved of the burden of State schools, State Church, State universities and many other such institutions which have been forced upon it by the landlords for the purpose of diverting the attention of the people from the real subject of contention.
- "Freiland, die eherne Forderung des Friedens" (spoken at Zürich, 1917) and Gesell's other address on peace: "Gold und Frieden?" (spoken at Bern, 1916) have been reprinted in all subsequent German editions and in the French edition of The Natural Economic Order.