14
Gronlund and Other Marxists

Authors

  • FRED HARRISON


  •  *George R. Geiger (The Philosophy of Henry George [New York: Macmillan, 1933], p. 255 n.) maintains that the socialist position against George is most effectively presented not only in Gronlund's two pamphlets but also in Algie M. Simons's twenty-nine-page attack, Single Tax Versus Socialism (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1899). This work, unfortunately, has become so scarce that it is not to be found even in the British Museum or the Library of Congress. Copies do exist in the Henry George Collection of the New York Public Library and in the Harvard University Library, but they are too fragile to permit loan or duplication. I am unwilling to evaluate Simons's work on the basis of someone else's summary, and cannot now make a transatlantic journey to examine it in person.

  •  *Speculation in the shares of the most important leading sector of the early industrial age—the railway companies, especially in the United States—was only superficially associated with the rewards of real capital accumulation. The speculators expected to make their biggest and quickest gains from capitalization of the land acquired by these companies. In the United States the railway companies received federal and state grants totalling about 380 million acres, nearly 20 percent of the whole country!

  •  *Henry George would have forecasted that the Keynesian model, which seeks to offset underconsumption in the private sector by increased public sector spending, was destined to failure precisely because it ignored land speculation. Keynes did not take this factor into account because he explicitly saw no problems. He relegated the deleterious impact of land speculation on economic growth to earlier, agricultural-based social organisations (J. M. Keynes, The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money [London: Macmillan, 1967], p. 241). The land question, he told the Liberal Summer School at Cambridge in 1925, was no longer a problem thanks to “a silent change in the facts.”

  •  *Gronlund, in fact, was an opportunist. His socialist programme it seems, was not so bold as to upset American farmers. “True, land should be nationalized; as part of a comprehensive programme such nationalization is the right thing, but to commence the programme with such demand is, in the United States, commencing from the wrong end, it is antagonizing the very class, the farmers, whom we want to benefit, for they, in the first place, will lose the grip on their farms. Why, the nationalization of agricultural land is here the very last thing to be thought of” (Insufficiency of Henry George's Theory [New York: New York Labor News Co., 1887], p. 12). Original emphasis.

  •  *Quite apart from the metaphysics involved, there is also the alleged economic problem of being able to apportion individual ownership to value created in the productive process, where a large number of workers were involved in a complex operation. Marx was not the only one to see this alleged difficulty. It was stated by Bertrand Russell, who thereupon drew the conclusion that “the principle that a man has a right to the produce of his own labour is useless in an industrial civilization” (History of Western Philosophy [London: George Allen & Unwin, 1967], pp. 612, 613). I can reply only that tax inspectors charged with levying a value-added tax have no difficulty in identifying incremental value added at each stage of the production process, and that individual workers have no problem in specifying their personal contributions to each stage of that value-creating process.

  •  *Speculation in future capital gains was only one motive for acquiring land. There were strong social reasons as well. The urban merchant sought status by buying a manor, and the landed class required large tracts for sporting pursuits.

  •  *If this were true, and given the long-term decline in the rate of profit, where was the inexorable process of exploitation of surplus value that Marxists claimed would impoverish the proletariat to the point of revolution?

  •  *Actually, Ricardo was the economist who had had some influence of a theoretical nature over the early nineteenth-century British administrators in India. See F. G. H. Anderson, Some Facts, Fallacies and Reflections Concerning the Land Revenue Systems in India, Paper no. 24, Fourth International Conference to Promote Land Value Taxation and Free Trade, Edinburgh 1929, London International Union for Land Value Taxation and Free Trade.

  •  *This was true not just of political theoreticians. Time and again the workers who suffered deprivation during economic crises blamed technology rather than land speculation. Hence the cases of destructive reaction, such as the Luddites of 1816 and the weavers in 1827, and the promises of socialist salvation, as from the Chartists after 1836.

Ancillary