Philosophers, Statesmen and Other Notables

Philosophers, Statesman and Other Notables on the Land Problem and Land Value Capture / Taxation

John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, Tom Paine, Leo Tolstoy, Winston Churchill, Mikhail Gorbachev, Sun Yat-Sen, Ambrose Bierce, David Lloyd George, Robert Pollok, Abraham Lincoln, Bertrand Russell, Ralph Nader, Karl Marx, Lenin, Gifford Pinchot, Horace Greeley, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, William Blackstone, Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Carlyle, Herbert Spencer, Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Xun Quang Xunzi, Confucius, Mencius, Walt Whitman, Lanklin Currie, Jackson H. Ralston, Martin Luther King, Agnes de Mille, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Olgivie, Sir Ronald East, Teddy Roosevelt, Tom L. Johnson, Robert Ingersoll, Walter Mondale, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jomo Kenyatta, Alfred Deakin, Eli Siegel, Thomas Berry, Chief Seattle, Patricia Mische, Alexander Cockburn, Nancy Birdsall

John Locke (1632 - 1704):

God gave the world in common to all mankind.







Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826) author of the Declaration of Independence wrote:






The earth is given as a common stock for men to labor and to live on... Wherever in any country there are idle lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. Everyone may have land to labor for himself, if he chooses; or, preferring the exercise of any other industry, may exact for it such compensation as not only to afford a comfortable subsistence, but wherewith to provide for a cessation from labor in old age." (Notes on Virginia, 1791)


Mark Twain (1835 - 1910):

The earth belongs to the people. Every increase of population, extension of trade, every advance in the arts and sciences would, as we all know, increase the value of land, and the competition that would naturally arise would continue to force rents upward, so much so, that in many cases the tenants would have little or nothing left for themselves.






Tom Paine (1737 - 1809),who authored Common Sense which catalyzed the American Revolution and coined the phrase "the United States of America", wrote:





Men did not make the earth ... it is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property... Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds... from this ground-rent ... I ... propose ... to create a National Fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person ... (a) sum. (Agrarian Justice, 1795-6)






Leo Tolstoy (1828 - 1910):





Solving the land question means the solving of all social questions... possession of land by people who do not use it is immoral – just like the possession of slaves.




Winston S. Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1940-1945, 1951-1955, Winner 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature:




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 geographical position –- land, I say, differs from all other forms of property in these primary and fundamental conditions.



I have made speeches by the yard on the subject of land value taxation, and you know what a supporter I am of that policy.


It is quite true that the land monopoly is not the only monopoly which exists, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies -- it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all forms of monopoly.



Nothing is more amusing than to watch the efforts of our monopolist opponents to prove that other forms of property and increment are exactly the same, and are similar in all respects to the unearned increment in land.



It does not matter where you look or what examples you select, you will see that every form of enterprise, every step in material progress is undertaken only after the land monopolist has skimmed the cream off for himself and everywhere today, the man who wishes to put land to the highest use is forced to pay a preliminary fine in land values to the man who is putting it to an inferior use, or no use at all. All comes back to the land value.


Mikhail Gorbachev (b. 1931):

Natural rent must be a part of public revenue -- what they don't earn but rather what they simply receive from the nation.






Sun Yat-Sen, 1866-1925) Chinese revolutionary, "Father of the Nation", first president of the Republic of China, co-founder of the Kuomintang wrote:





The teachings of Henry George will be the basis of our program of reform... The (land tax) as the only means of supporting the government is an infinitely just, reasonable, and equitably distributed tax, and on it we will found our new system. The centuries of heavy and irregular taxation for the benefit of the Manchus have shown China the injustice of any other system of taxation.

When modern, enlightened cities levy land taxes, the burdens upon the common people are lightened, and many other advantages follow. If Canton city should now collect land taxes according to land values, the government would have a large and steady source of funds for administration. The whole place could be put into good order.

But at present, the rising land values in Canton all go to the landowners themselves -- they do not belong to the community. The government has no regular income, and so to meet expenses it has to levy all sorts of miscellaneous taxes upon the common people. This burden upon the common people is too heavy; they are always having to pay out taxes and so are terribly poor -- and the number of poor people in China is enormous. The reasons for the heavy burdens upon the poor are the unjust system of taxation practiced by the government, and the unequal distribution of land power and the failure to solve the land problem. If we can put the land tax completely into effect, the land problem will be solved and the common people will not have to endure such suffering.

Ambrose Bierce (The Devil's Dictionary, 1911):

LAND, n. A part of the earth's surface, considered as property. The theory that land is property subject to private ownership and control is the foundation of modern society.... Carried to its logical conclusion, it means that some have the right to prevent others from living; for the right to own implies the right exclusively to occupy; and in fact laws of trespass are enacted wherever property in land is recognized. It follows that if the whole area of terra firma is owned by A, B and C, there will be no place for D, E, F and G to be born, or, born as trespassers, to exist.




David Lloyd George:



The Landlord is a gentleman who does not earn his wealth. He has a host of agents and clerks that receive for him. He does not even take the trouble to spend his wealth. He has a host of people around him to do the actual spending. He never sees it until he comes to enjoy it. His sole function, his chief pride, is the stately consumption of wealth produced by others.


Robert Pollok:

With one hand he put a penny in the urn of poverty, and with the other took a shilling out.


Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865) President of the United States, 1861 to 1865. First President of the Republican Party, known as "the Great Emancipator":

The land, the earth God gave to man for his home, sustenance and support, should never be the possession of any man, corporation, society or unfriendly government, any more than the air or water -- if as much. An individual or company, or enterprise, acquiring land should hold no more than is required for their home and sustenance, and never more than they have in actual use in the prudent management of their legitimate business, and this much should not be permitted when it creates an exclusive monopoly.


Bertrand Russell, (1872-1970), British philosopher and mathematician who received the highest score in history on the Cambridge University entrance exam, wrote:

The mere abolition of rent would not remove injustice, since it would confer a capricious advantage upon the occupiers of the best sites and the most fertile land. It is necessary that there should be rent, but it should be paid to the state or to some body which performs public services; or, if the total rental were more than is required for such purposes, it might be paid into a common fund and divided equally among the population.


Ralph Nader, U.S. attorney and political activist, advocate of consumer rights, feminism, environmentalism and democratic government. Greens candidate for President, founder of almost fifty non-profit organisations:

Site-value property taxation may also spark greater development in cities by taxing land, not buildings. Unlike traditional taxation -- which rewards developers who put up cheap, tacky housing and strip malls -- site-value taxation gives developers the incentive to build gracious, durable buildings. Allowances for affordable housing, however, need to be part of site-value schemes.



We need a big debate on different kinds of taxation, to talk about how corporations are freeloading on public services and getting tax breaks while taxes are falling on workers and smaller businesses. We need to open a debate about land taxation and Henry George, to tax bad things, not good things, and not to tax people who go to work every day.


By 1875, Karl Marx recognized the monopoly power of the land. In a letter, he wrote (making much of his earlier criticism on taxing land values moot):

In present-day society the instruments of labour are the monopoly of the landowners (the monopoly of property in land is even the basis of the monopoly of capital) and the capitalists … the capitalist is usually not even the owner of the land on which his factory stands.


Lenin, as quoted by Raymond Robins after an interview following the war, Globe Democrat, St Louis, Jan 27, 1934:

The proper application of Georgian taxation of land values is a tax upon the mentality of a people beyond the capacity of a Nation not ten percent of whom have learned to read. They can't understand it. They can only understand socialism at present. Some day, with a higher level of intelligence, we may adopt the taxation of land values and enjoy economic freedom, but not now.


Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), first head of the US Forest Service in the early 1900s challenged the logging of public land, which was infamously corrupt. He said:

The earth … belongs of right to all its people and not to a minority, insignificant in numbers but tremendous in wealth and power… The people shall get their fair share of the benefit which comes from the development of the country which belongs to us all… with equal opportunity for all and special privileges for none. (Breaking New Ground; 1947; p 509-510)


Horace Greeley (1811-1872), the anti-slavery crusader, elaborated:

Whenever the ownership of the soil is so engrossed by a small part of the community that the far larger part are compelled to pay whatever the few may see fit to exact for the privilege of occupying and cultivating the Earth, there is something very much like slavery.


Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), French journalist/anarchist, elaborated:

As long as land monopoly is maintained, the few can take possession of what Nature free of charge has granted to everyone, and usury will penetrate the whole society, and we will have banks, which instead of being servants for the exchange of goods will become powerful extorters.


William Blackstone (1732-1780), British judge, wrote:

The earth, therefore, and all things therein, are the general property of all mankind, from the immediate gift of the Creator."


Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher, wrote

The whole soil should be public property.


Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish historian who christened economics “the dismal science”, asked, "Who can or who could sell us the earth? Actually the earth belongs to these two:

the almighty God and all his children who have ever worked on it or who will ever have worked on it or who will ever have to work on it. No generation of men can or could with even the highest solemnity and exertion sell the earth according to any other principle.


Herbert Spencer (1820-1910), British philosopher and more famous than Marx at the time, said:

Equity does not permit property in land... The world is God's bequest to mankind. All men are joint heirs to it.


Voltaire (1694-1778) had his character Candide say:

The fruits of the earth are a common heritage of all, to which each man has equal right.


Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), said:

You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to no one.


Xun Quang Xunzi, 3rd c. BC:

Heaven has its reasons, Earth has its resources, Man has his political order, thus forming with the first two a triad. But he would err if he failed to respect the ground rules of this triad and infringed on the other two.


Confucius (BC 551-479), Chinese philosopher, said:

"When the Great Way prevailed, natural resources were fully used for the benefit of all and not appropriated for selfish ends... This was the Age of the Great Commonwealth of peace and prosperity.


Mencius, the philosopher and contemporary of Confucius in ancient China, said:

In the market places, charge land-rent, but don't tax the goods; or make concise regulations and don't even charge rent. Do this, and all the merchants in the realm will be pleased and will want to set up shop in your markets. At the borders, make inspections but don't charge tariffs, then all the travelers in the realm will be pleased and will want to traverse your highways.


Walt Whitman (1819-1892):

The greatest country, the richest country, is not that which has the most capitalists, monopolists, immense grabbings, vast fortunes, with its sad, sad soil of extreme, degrading, damning poverty, but the land in which there are the most homesteads, freeholds-where wealth does not show such contrasts high and low, where all men have enough-a modest living-and no man is made possessor beyond the sane and beautiful necessities.


To head up the Federal Reserve and to be the nation's Economic Advisor, US President Franklin Roosevelt appointed a Harvard man, the Canadian Lanklin Currie, who said:

Controlling land was the key to civilization... It is a striking example of our economic illiteracy that we have more or less quietly acquiesced in the private appropriation of socially created gains, letting fortunate owners and their heirs levy tribute or claim a share of the national income to which they have contributed nothing… The rise in land values (and, to a small extent, building) that results from growth in numbers and income of a community is a reflection of pure scarcity. It arises from the community and should belong to the community. Ecistics, 244, March 1976, p 137-143.


Jackson H. Ralston (1857-1946), Washington, D.C. attorney said:

Until the Single Tax makes all our mineral resources equally available to all the community, thus destroying the special profits now accruing to those able to hold land out of use, the most oppressive trusts in existence will find their way clear to retain their power, despite anti-trust laws, interstate commerce laws, and all the publicity we may by law give their operations.


Martin Luther King, Jr.:

I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. - “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”



An intelligent approach to the problems of poverty and racism will cause us to see the words of the Psalmist - "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof" - are still a judgment upon our use and abuse of the wealth and resources with which we have been endowed. - A Testament of Hope: The Essential Speeches and Writings of Martin Luther King Jr., pp 629-630.


Agnes de Mille (1905-1993), famous choreographer and granddaughter of Henry George:

We have reached the deplorable circumstance where in large measure a very powerful few are in possession of the earth's resources, the land and all its riches, and all the franchises and other privileges that yield a return. These monopolistic positions are kept by a handful of men who are maintained virtually with- out taxation . . . we are yielding up sovereignty.


Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82)American poet:

Grimly the spirit of progress looks into the law of property and accuses men of driving a trade in the great, boundless providence which has given the air, the water, and the land to men to use and not to fence in and monopolize.


William Ogilvie (1736 - 1819), Scottish scholar and writer:

The earth having been given to mankind in common occupancy, each individual seems to have by nature a right to possess and cultivate an equal share. This right is little different from that which he has to the free use of the open air and running water; though not so indispensably requisite at short intervals for his actual existence, it is not less essential to the welfare and right state of his life through all its progressive stages.


Sir Ronald East (1899 - 1994):

With our system of land tenure, each generation pays an ever-increasing tribute to the landowner. Nearly all the benefit of mechanical invention and discovery, scientific and agricultural development, increased efficiency of labour, improved methods of business go not to the worker, employer or investor industrial stocks, but to the investor in land. It is thus that great fortunes are made - by unearned increment.


U.S. Congressman William J. Coyne, in 1990 letter to the chair of the D.C. Committee on Finance and Revenue:

...You are considering a differential property tax for the District of Columbia. When I was on the Pittsburgh City Council, Pittsburgh adopted a similar tax. A Nobel Prize-winning economist assured me we were on sound ground. Opponents, however, insisted higher land taxes would drive business away, reduce the housing supply, drive up housing prices and retard development. After passage, just the opposite happened. Pittsburgh immediately experienced a commercial building boom. Many derelict buildings were replaced. Despite a housing slump nationwide and in our metropolitan area, housing construction in the city reached new heights. Our consistently low housing prices have been a factor in making Pittsburgh one of the most livable cities in the nation.


Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th president of the US and a loser against George in the 1886 mayoral race for New York City, said:

The burden of taxation should be so shifted as to put the weight upon the unearned rise in the value of land itself, rather than improvements, the effect being to prevent the undue rise of rents.


Tom L. Johnson (1876-1934), millionaire industrialist and mayor of Cleveland, hired economists to disprove George. When none could, he concluded:

What the world needs is justice, not benevolence. To the extent the law grants special favors to some, do the people suffer. The greatest special privilege is land monopoly, made possible by the exemption from taxation of land values. So long as it is permitted to any man to take what doesn't belong to him through monopolizing nature's resources and the private ownership of public utilities, plenty of men of my kind will always be ready to jump in and do the stealing. My mission is to take what people are stupid enough to let me take, and to show them how they can put an end to the system which enriches me and impoverishes them. (Christian Science Weekly, 1933)


Ed Dodson, U.S. mortgage analyst, author:

What effects the value of land is demand for the location. To the extent the location is subject to a payment of an annual tax that equals its rental value, the price the owner can obtain in a sales transaction will - all things being equal - be quite low because there is no imputed income stream to be capitalized.


Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899) American political leader and orator:

Now, the land belongs to the children of nature. Nature invites into this world every babe who is born. And what would you think of me, for instance, tonight, if I had invited you here - nobody had charged anything, but you had been invited - and when you got here you had found one man pretending to occupy a hundred seats, another fifty, another seventy five, and thereupon you were compelled to stand up - what would you think of the invitation? It seems to me that every child of nature is entitled to his share of land, and that he should not be compelled to beg the privilege to work the soil of a babe that happened to be born before him.


US Senator Walter Mondale said:

The federal government could further the taxation of land values. It could levy such a federal tax itself and this would be much preferable to taxes on labor and capital investment.


General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), ex-US president who in 1950 voted for Henry George to enter into the Hall of Fame, wondered:

why the world's resources could not be internationalized, since raw materials represented the world's basic needs, they should belong to and serve everybody.


Jomo Kenyatta, (1889 - 1978), prime minister of Kenya:

When the white man came we had the land and they had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed and when we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.


Alfred Deakin, (1857 - 1919), Australia's second prime minister:

The whole of the people have the right of the ownership of land and the right to share in the value of land itself, though not to share in the fruits of land which properly belong to the individuals by whose labour they are produced.


Eli Siegel, an American poet and philosopher, in his 1946 essay “Ownership: Some Moments,” stated:

How the earth should be owned is the major economic question of this time; as it is the oldest.


In another essay, “Self and World” he declared:

The world should be owned by the people living in it. Every person should be seen as living in a world truly his.


Thomas Berry:

Humans in their totality are born of the earth. We are earthlings. The earth is our origin, our nourishment, our support, our guide... Thus the whole burden of modern earth studies is to narrate the story of the birth of humans from our Mother Earth.


Chief Seattle:

“This we know. The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.


Patricia Mische:

The more we grow in awareness of our own sacred source, the more we discover that our own sacred source is the sacred source of each person and all that is in the universe.


Alexander Cockburn:

Windfall land value increases are created by government actions, roads, sewer lines, light rail, re-zoning, etc. The people should share in the ballooning value of land.


Nancy Birdsall, founding president of the Center for Global Development, formerly in senior positions at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Inter-American Development Bank, and formerly executive VP at the Inter-American Development Bank:

The key to East Asia's success seemed to be its low initial levels of inequality, which were associated with the legacy of postwar redistribution of farm land in the northern economies and with subsequent high public investments in education, agricultural extension, and other programs in rural areas… Land inequality (and unequal access to education) when combined with poor markets for land and credit may also be destructive for growth itself, and especially for growth that benefits the poor. Some evidence suggests that large landowners captured most of the benefits of agricultural growth in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. In contrast, in Indonesia, where small farmers provide the bulk of agricultural production, agricultural productivity and growth were greater in that period, and were better for the rural poor. (The Boston Review, March/April 2000)