Letter to Pope LeoXIII on Land Value Tax; Lessons for Kenya
To Pope Leo XIII.
YOUR HOLINESS: I have read with care your Encyclical letter on the condition of labor, addressed, through the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and Bishops of your faith, to the Christian World. Since its most strikingly pronounced condemnations are directed against a theory that we who hold it know to be deserving of your support, I ask permission to lay before your Holiness the grounds of our belief, and to set forth some considerations that you have unfortunately overlooked. The momentous seriousness of the facts you refer to, the poverty, suffering and seething discontent that pervade the Christian world, the danger that passion may lead ignorance in a blind struggle against social conditions rapidly becoming intolerable, are my justification.
American apologists for slavery used to contend that the black skin and woolly hair of the negro indicated the intent of nature that the black should serve the white; but the difference that you assume to be natural is between men of the same race. What difference does nature show between such men as would indicate her intent that one should live idly yet be rich, and the other should work hard yet be poor? If I could bring you from the United States a man who has $200,000,000, and one who is glad to work for a few dollars a week, and place them side by side in your antechamber, would you be able to tell which was which, even were you to call in the most skilled anatomist? Is it not clear that God in no way countenances or condones the division of rich and poor that exists today, or in any way permits it, except as having given them free will he permits men to choose either good or evil, and to avoid heaven if they prefer hell.
The natural right which each man has is not that of demanding employment or wages from another man; but that of employing himself — that of applying by his own labor to the inexhaustible storehouse which the Creator has in the land provided for all men. Were that storehouse open, as by the single tax we would open it, the natural demand for labor would keep pace with the supply, the man who sold labor and the man who bought it would become free exchangers for mutual advantage, and all cause for dispute between workman and employer would be gone. For then, all being free to employ themselves, the mere opportunity to labor would cease to seem a boon; and since no one would work for another for less, all things considered, than he could earn by working for himself, wages would necessarily rise to their full value, and the relations of workman and employer be regulated by mutual interest and convenience.
This is the only way in which they can be satisfactorily regulated.
Consider the moral teachings of the Encyclical:
• You tell us that God owes to man an inexhaustible storehouse which he finds only in the land. Yet you support a system that denies to the great majority of men all right of recourse to this storehouse.
• You tell us that the necessity of labor is a consequence of original sin. Yet you support a system that exempts a privileged class from the necessity for labor and enables them to shift their share and much more than their share of labor on others.
• You tell us that God has not created us for the perishable and transitory things of earth, but has given us this world as a place of exile and not as our true country. Yet you tell us that some of the exiles have the exclusive right of ownership in this place of common exile, so that they may compel their fellow-exiles to pay them for sojourning here, and that this exclusive ownership they may transfer to other exiles yet to come, with the same right of excluding their fellows.
• You tell us that virtue is the common inheritance of all; that all men are children of God the common Father; that all have the same last end; that all are redeemed by Jesus Christ; that the blessings of nature and the gifts of grace belong in common to all, and that to all except the unworthy is promised the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven! Yet in all this and through all this you insist as a moral duty on the maintenance of a system that makes the reservoir of all God’s material bounties and blessings to man the exclusive property of a few of their number — you give us equal rights in heaven, but deny us equal rights on earth!
Here is the answer, the only true answer: If men lack bread it is not that God has not done his part in providing it. If men willing to labor are cursed with poverty, it is not that the storehouse that God owes men has failed; that the daily supply he has promised for the daily wants of his children is not here in abundance. It is, that impiously violating the benevolent intentions of their Creator, men have made land private property, and thus given into the exclusive ownership of the few the provision that a bountiful Father has made for all.
Any other answer than that, no matter how it may be shrouded in the mere forms of religion, is practically an atheistical answer.
Wishing for your Holiness the chiefest of all blessings, that you may know the truth and be freed by the truth; wishing for you the days and the strength that may enable you by the great service you may render to humanity to make your pontificate through all coming time most glorious; and with the profound respect due to your personal character and to your exalted office, I am,
NEW YORK, September 11, 1891.
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