Front Page Titles (by Subject) LAND TENURE REFORM 1871 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V - Essays on Economics and Society Part II
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LAND TENURE REFORM 1871 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V - Essays on Economics and Society Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V - Essays on Economics and Society Part II, ed. John M. Robson, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967).
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LAND TENURE REFORM
Programme of the Land Tenure Reform Association, with an Explanatory Statement by John Stuart Mill. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1871, 6-16. Republished, D&D, IV (1875), 239-50, as “Explanatory Statement of the Programme of the Land Tenure Reform Association,” with a footnote giving the ten points of the Programme. The footnote is dated July, 1870, the date of the adoption of the Programme, not of the writing of the “Explanatory Statement.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “The Explanatory Statement published with the Programme of the Land Tenure Reform Association in March 1871” (MacMinn, 100). No corrections or variants in Somerville College copy.
During the preliminary organization of the Association, in autumn, 1869, JSM served as Chairman of the Provisional Committee but, as he informed Andrew Reid (eventually Secretary of the Association), he would not take on the leadership of the Association once it was established. He was, however, actively involved in drawing up the Programme (completed during April, 1870), and became Chairman. On 15 March, 1871, he wrote to Longmans asking them to publish the pamphlet containing the Programme and his Explanatory Statement; Longmans agreed, and the pamphlet, to cost sixpence, was ready for the press on 27 March. Within the next year the Association had taken 2100 copies, largely for distribution to the working classes, and 331 had been bought by the public. For a document issued by the Association, under JSM’s name as Chairman, see Appendix D, 766-7 below.
In the following text the one substantive variant (see 689) derives from D&D, IV, which is identified as “75”. The ten points of the Programme, which appear before JSM’s explanation in the pamphlet, are introduced as footnotes where appropriate.
Land Tenure Reform
of all our leading institutions, none are more unsuited than the Land Laws to the state of society of which the Reform Act of 1867[*] is the harbinger. Originating in an age when the landholders were masters of the country, it is no wonder that they should require alteration now, when the country belongs, at least in principle, to the whole of its inhabitants. Our laws relating to land are the remains of a system which, as history tells us, was designed to prop up a ruling class. They were made for the purpose of keeping together the largest possible possessions in the families which owned the land, and by means of it governed the country. So long as those families were not obliged to share power with any other class, or with the people, the Land Laws were in many respects considerably worse than they are now; but what is left of them has still the same object: to contrive that the land of the family shall descend unbroken to the eldest son, and that the owner for the time being shall not be at liberty to defeat this purpose by selling the land. By these means the land has been prevented, to a large extent, from passing out of the hands of the idle into those of the industrious, and its ownership has been retained aasa the privilege of a small and decreasing number of families.
The removal of these remains of feudality is the object aimed at in the first three articles of the Society’s Programme.[†] They hope to be aided in its attainment by all real Liberals, not excepting those who demand changes much more drastic. An active and influential portion of the working classes have adopted the opinion, that private property in land is a mistake, and that the land ought to be resumed, and managed on account of the State, compensation being made to the proprietors. Some of these reformers look with jealousy on any relaxation of the land monopoly, thinking that an increase of the number of landed proprietors would strengthen the obstacles to a general resumption of the land. But even from their point of view, there is another side to the question; since, (in a country like this, where there is not, as in Ireland and France, an intense competition among the labouring classes for land, raising it far above its reasonable value) whatever brings more land into the market tends to lower its price, and diminishes the amount of compensation which, if the views of these reformers were to prevail, the nation would have to pay to the landowners. Meanwhile, so long as land is private property, whatever facilitates its passing into new hands tends to increase its productiveness, and thereby its usefulness to the nation at large: since those among the owners who are least provided with skill, enterprise, and capital, are those who are under the strongest inducement to sell their land. The Society, therefore, venture to hope that even the most extreme section of land reformers will not reject this first part of their programme; while they are assured of the support, to this extent, of many whose ideas of Land Tenure Reform go no farther.
The Society, however, are not content to stop at this point. They are of opinion that much more is amiss in the present system of landed property than merely the restraints on its alienation. Whether the hitherto fundamental institution of property in land is destined to be permanent, or to disappear, they do not take upon themselves to decide. On this, as on other questions of the distant future, persons of both modes of thinking may consistently give the Society their support. The Society is formed to promote, not the abolition of landed property, but its reform, and the vindication of those rights of the entire community which need not be, and never ought to have been, waived in favour of the landlords. One of these is the right of laying peculiar taxation on land. Landed property enjoys a special advantage over other property, and for that special advantage it ought to pay. This is the purpose of the Fourth Article of the Programme.[*]
There are some things which, if allowed to be articles of commerce at all, cannot be prevented from being monopolized articles. On all such the State has an acknowledged right to limit the profits. Railways, for instance, are inevitably a monopoly, and the State, accordingly, sets a legal limit to the amount of railway fares. Now, land is one of these natural monopolies. The demand for it, in every prosperous country, is constantly rising, while the land itself is susceptible of but little increase. All such articles, when indispensable to human existence, tend irresistibly to rise in price, with the progress of wealth and population. The rise of the value of land, and of the incomes of landowners, during the present century, has been enormous. Part of it, undoubtedly, has been due to agricultural improvements and the expenditure of capital on the soil. Much of it, however, is merely the result of the increased demand for agricultural products, and for building land, and would have taken place even though no money had been laid out in increasing the productive powers of the soil. Such outlay, moreover, as there has been, was made, in a great proportion of cases, not by the landlord, but by the tenant, who may or may not have been indemnified by a temporary enjoyment of the profits; but, sooner or later, the increased return produced by the tenant’s capital has become an unearned addition to the income of the landlord.
The Society are of opinion that in allowing the land to become private property, the State ought to have reserved to itself this accession of income, and that lapse of time does not extinguish this right, whatever claim to compensation it may establish in favour of the landowners. The land is the original inheritance of all mankind. The usual, and by far the best argument for its appropriation by individuals is, that private ownership gives the strongest motive for making the soil yield the greatest possible produce. But this argument is only valid for leaving to the owner the full enjoyment of whatever value he adds to the land by his own exertions and expenditure. There is no similar reason for allowing him to appropriate an increase of value to which he has contributed nothing, but which accrues to him from the general growth of society, that is to say, not from his own labour or expenditure, but from that of other people—of the community at large.
The Society do not propose to disturb the landowners in their past acquisitions. But they assert the right of the State to all such accessions of income in the future. Whatever value the land may have acquired at the time when the principle they contend for shall obtain the assent of Parliament, they do not propose to interfere with. If, rather than submit to be specially taxed on the future increase of his rent, a landowner prefers to relinquish his land to the State, the Society are willing that the State should pay for it at its selling value. By this provision, all his just claims will be fully satisfied, while the bargain will still be highly advantageous to the nation, since an individual never gives, in present money, for a remote profit, anything like what that profit is worth to the State, which is immortal. In this manner, that increase of wealth which now flows into the coffers of private persons from the mere progress of society, and not from their own merits or sacrifices, will be gradually, and in an increasing proportion, diverted from them to the nation as a whole, from whose collective exertions and sacrifices it really proceeds. The State will receive the entire rent of the lands voluntarily sold to it by their possessors, together with a tax on the future increase of rent on those properties whose owners have sufficient confidence in the justice and moderation of the State to prefer retaining them. These owners should be allowed at any future period to alter their minds, and give up their lands for the price first offered; or more, if they can show that they have made, during the intervening period, substantial improvements at their own cost. The option thus allowed would be a permanent security to the landowners against any unjust or excessive exercise of the right of taxation by the State.
Objections have been made to the taxation of a prospective increase of rent, on the ground of difficulties of execution; but those difficulties, fairly encountered, would not, it is conceived, be very serious. It is not necessary to enforce the right of the State to the utmost farthing. A large margin should be allowed for possible miscalculation. A valuation of all the land in the country would be made in the first instance, and a registration established of subsequent improvements made by the landlord. Taxation would not commence until there had been time for an increase of value to accrue, and should then be kept carefully within the amount of increase due to general causes. If a landowner could prove that, owing to special circumstances, his estate had not shared in the general rise of value, he would be exempt from the tax: and at all events, if the just limit was exceeded, the power of surrendering the land at its original valuation, augmented by a just compensation for subsequent improvements, would be a sufficient protection to the pecuniary interests of the landlords.
This reassertion of the right of the State to lay special taxation, within the limits now specified, on the rent of land, is the extent of the claim made by the Society, in behalf of the nation, upon the lands which have been permitted to become the patrimony of private families. But there is another large portion of the lands of the country which are not yet private property, and to these the Society demands that the right of the nation be henceforth maintained. As much of the original right of the whole people to the land as the nation has already parted with to individuals, the programme of the Association leaves to those who have it. But they decidedly object to parting with any more. They demand that the practice of converting public property into private should henceforth terminate.
There are, in the first place, what are called the common lands. These are said to belong to the lord of the manor. But they are not his like his private estate—to deal with as he pleases. They are not his for the principal purpose to which land is applicable—that of cultivation. Even their spontaneous produce does not belong to him exclusively. The game is his, and the game is nearly the only thing found on them that is his. The natural pasture, and the wood which grows wild on the land, he shares with those of his neighbours who have rights of common; and if he wants to bring the land into cultivation, he must apply to the Inclosure Commissioners,[*] who obtain for him an Act of Parliament. This Act of Parliament divides the land between him and the adjacent landowners, who alone, in rural districts, except by special grant from the lord of the manor, are considered to have rights of common; and neither tenants nor cottagers, save in quite exceptional cases, obtain any compensation, unless that name is given to the miserable reservation of a few acres for recreation ground or cottage allotments. The Society regard this disposal of the common lands as an iniquity, and demand that it should entirely cease. The demand is no infringement of private property. Neither the lord of the manor nor the neighbouring landowners are entitled to a farthing more than the value of what the land yields to them in its wild state. The Society are willing to respect existing possession, but they protest against making a fresh gift from the nation to its wealthiest members. If free gifts are to be made at all, they should at least be reserved for those who need them.
When the State thinks fit to exercise its right to these waste lands, the lord of the manor should be compensated for his manorial rights, and the commoners for their rights of common, at the existing value, and the land either kept open for the enjoyment of the people or cultivated for their use. The Society attach great importance to keeping open extensive tracts in a state of wild natural beauty and freedom; and a large portion of the waste lands of the country are of too poor a quality to be worth much for any other purpose. When the land is worth cultivation, and the wants of society require that it should be cultivated, the mode of bringing it into cultivation should be principally determined by the interest of the labouring classes. Were it desirable to give any further extension to private property in land, those classes would have a paramount claim to be admitted to a share in it, by the grant of the land in small parcels to respectable agricultural labourers at a fixed rent. But if, as is, perhaps, more to be expected, the opinion prevails that any further permanent alienation of the land is undesirable, these lands will remain with the State, or with local authorities, as a means of trying, with the greatest advantage and under every variety of circumstances, the modes in which land can be most successfully managed on the public account—whether by capitalist farmers, with stipulations for the benefit of the labourers, or by long leases on proper conditions to small cultivators, or finally, by co-operative farming.[*]
A still more valuable resource than the common lands consists of the land owned by public bodies and endowed institutions. These possessions are not, in any sense whatever, private property. No one of those who profit by them has more than a life interest, most have not so much, and their interests can be bought up, or suffered to expire. All enlightened reformers acknowledge the moral distinction between private property and public endowments; and it is now an admitted doctrine among Liberals, that endowments, after a certain length of duration, are at the disposal of the State, which from that time should fix their destination. Many endowments are positively mischievous, and ought to be extinguished. Others, especially educational endowments, are highly useful, and under better management will, it may be hoped, become more so; and many, now worthless from abuse, only require to be properly looked after. A portion of the lands of the country, much larger and more valuable than the public in general are aware of, is thus at the disposal of the State. It can keep those lands together, and administer them either for the objects to which they are appropriated, or for such other objects as may be considered preferable, and permit them to be leased or occupied on such terms as it thinks fit by individuals or associations. It may, without injustice or detriment to any one, make use of them for any well-considered social or philanthropic experiments. Among the lands thus disposable is the soil of large portions of our great towns, and particularly of London. It is obvious what facilities their possession would give for promoting every improvement that tends to raise the condition of the mass of the people: sanitary works, improved dwellings, public gardens, co-operative buildings, co-operative agriculture, useful public institutions of every kind.*
These important reforms are the object of the 7th, 8th, and 9th articles of the Programme.[*] But inasmuch as the waste lands, and the lands belonging to public bodies, are irregularly and unequally distributed through the country; and the means which they afford, as well for executing recognised improvements, as for bringing to an experimental test such as are yet untried, ought not to be confined to some neighbourhoods, but should exist in all parts of the country; it is therefore provided, by the 5th and 6th articles,[*] that the State should purchase from private owners estates which are in the market, when such purchase is necessary for giving a fair trial in any neighbourhood to co-operative agriculture, or to a properly regulated system of small farming.
The 10th article of the Programme requires no explanation.[†] It is contrary to all principle that private proprietors, who may be, and often are, liberal and enlightened, but who may, on the contrary, be the most ignorant and capricious of mankind, should have the power of destroying, or of closing from public view, natural curiosities, or monuments and historical relics, of the greatest value to science, to history, and to the instruction and enjoyment of every person in the country who has sufficient knowledge and intelligence to appreciate their value.
[[*] ]30 & 31 Victoria, c. 102.
[[†] ]“I. To remove all Legal and Fiscal Impediments to the Transfer of Land. II. To secure the abolition of the Law of Primogeniture. III. To restrict within the narrowest limits the power of Tying up Land.” (Programme, p. 3.)
[[*] ]“IV. To claim, for the benefit of the State, the Interception by Taxation of the Future Unearned Increase of the Rent of Land (so far as the same can be ascertained), or a great part of that increase, which is continually taking place, without any effort or outlay by the proprietors, merely through the growth of population and wealth; reserving to owners the option of relinquishing their property to the State at the market value which it may have acquired at the time when this principle may be adopted by the Legislature.” (Programme, p. 3.)
[[*] ]See 8 & 9 Victoria, c. 118.
[[*] ]See the 5th and 6th articles of the Programme (pp. 3-4): “V. To promote a policy of Encouragement to Co-operative Agriculture, through the purchase by the State, from time to time, of Estates which are in the market, and the Letting of them, under proper regulations, to such Co-operative Associations, as afford sufficient evidence of spontaneity and promise of efficiency. VI. To promote the Acquisition of Land in a similar manner, to be let to Small Cultivators, on conditions, which, while providing for the proper cultivation of the land, shall secure to the cultivator a durable interest in it.”
[* ]There are some who think it a useful provision for the public interest that individuals should have the power to buy land as an investment, with an express view to obtaining, through its rise in value, a future provision for their family at a comparatively moderate present expense. It is thought that this power, in the hands of individuals, causes an earlier use to be made, through private foresight, of situations advantageous for building or for industrial purposes, than would otherwise be the case; and that of this foresight it is just that the individuals should reap the benefit. But in answer to this it should be considered, that it would be the duty of the Land Department of the State to exercise for its benefit the foresight now exercised by individuals for theirs. Neither would the benefits of individual sagacity be lost to the community; since the person who first perceived the advantageous use to which a piece of land might be put, would, if he could not acquire the absolute property, have the resource of applying to the Land Department for a long lease; which there need be no doubt that in such cases it would be the policy of the State to grant.
[[*] ]“VII. Lands belonging to the Crown, or to Public Bodies, or Charitable and other Endowments, to be made available for the same purposes, as suitable conditions arise, as well as for the Improvement of the Dwellings of the Working Classes; and no such lands to be suffered (unless in pursuance of the above mentioned ends, or for peculiar and exceptional reasons) to pass into Private hands. VIII. All Lands now Waste, or requiring an Act of Parliament to authorize their inclosure, to be retained for National Uses: Compensation being made for Manorial rights and rights of Common. IX. That while it is expedient to bring a large portion of the present Waste Lands under Cultivation for the purposes and on the principles laid down in the preceding articles, it is desirable that the less fertile portions, especially those which are within reach of populous districts, should be retained in a state of wild natural beauty, for the general enjoyment of the community, and encouragement in all classes of healthful rural tastes, and of the higher order of pleasures; also, in order to leave to future generations the decision of their ultimate uses.” (Programme, pp. 4-5.)
[[*] ]See p. 693n above.
[[†] ]“X. To obtain for the State the power to take possession (with a view to their preservation) of all Natural Objects, or Artificial Constructions attached to the soil, which are of historical, scientific, or artistic interest, together with so much of the surrounding land as may be thought necessary; the owners being compensated for the value of the land so taken.” (Programme, p. 5.)