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Thursday, May 17, 2012
Our Enemy, The State - By Albert Jay Nock Part 4.1
After conquest and confiscation have been effected, and the State set up, its first concern is with the land. The State assumes the right of eminent domain over its territorial basis, whereby every landholder becomes in theory a tenant of the State. In its capacity as ultimate landlord, the State distributes the land among its beneficiaries on its own terms. A point to be observed in passing is that by the State-system of land-tenure each original transaction confers two distinct monopolies, entirely different in their nature, inasmuch as one concerns the right to labour-made property, and the other concerns the right to purely law-made property. The one is a monopoly of the use-value of land; and the other, a monopoly of the economic rent of land. The first gives the right to keep other persons from using the land in question, or trespassing on it, and the right to exclusive possession of values accruing from the application of labour to it; values, that is, which are produced by exercise of the economic means upon the particular property in question. Monopoly of economic rent, on the other hand, gives the exclusive right to values accruing from the desire of other persons to possess that property; values which take their rise irrespective of any exercise of the economic means on the part of the landholder.
Economic rent arises when for whatsoever reason, two or more persons compete for the possession of a piece of land, and it increases directly according to the number of persons competing. The whole of Manhattan Island was bought originally by a handful of Hollanders from a handful of Indians for twenty-four dollars worth of trinkets. The subsequent “rise in land-values,” as we call it, was brought about by the steady influx of population and the consequent high competition for portions of the island’s surface; and these ensuing values were monopolized by the holders. They grew to an enormous size, and the holders profited accordingly; the Astor, Wendel, and Trinity Church estates have always served as classical examples for study of the State-system of land-tenure.
Bearing in mind that the State is the organization of the political means – that its primary intention is to enable the economic exploitation of one class by another we see that it has always acted on the principle already cited, that expropriation must precede exploitation. There is no other way to make the political means effective. The first postulate of fundamental economics is that man is a land-animal, deriving his subsistence wholly from the land.
His entire wealth is produced by the application of labour and capital to land; no form of wealth known to man can be produced in any other way. Hence, if his free access to land be shut off by legal preemption, he can apply his capital only with the landholder’s consent, and on the landholder’s terms; in other words, it is at this point, and at this point only, that exploitation becomes practicable. Therefore the first concern of the State must be invariably, as we find it invariably is, with its policy of land-tenure.
I state these elementary matters as briefly as I can; the reader may easily find a full exposition of them elsewhere.4 I am here concerned only to show why the State system of land-tenure came into being, and why its maintenance is necessary to the State’s existence. If this system were broken up, obviously the reason for the State’s existence would disappear, and the State itself would disappear with it. With this in mind, it is interesting to observe that although all our public policies would seem to be in process of exhaustive review, no publicist has anything to say about the State system of land-tenure. This is no doubt the best evidence of its importance.
Under the feudal State there was no great amount of traffic in land. When William, for example, set up the Norman State in England after conquest and confiscation in 1066-76, his associated banditti, among whom he parcelled out the confiscated territory, did nothing to speak of in the way of developing their holdings, and did not contemplate gain from the increment of rental-values. In fact, economic rent hardly existed; their fellow-beneficiaries were not in the market to any great extent, and the dispossessed population did not represent any economic demand. The feudal regime was a regime of status, under which landed estates yielded hardly any rental-value, and only a moderate use-value, but carried an enormous insignia-value. Land was regarded more as a badge of nobility than an active asset; its possession marked a man as belonging to the exploiting class, and the size of his holdings seems to have counted for more than the number of his exploitable dependents. The encroachments of the merchant-State, however, brought about a change in these circumstances. The importance of rental-values was recognized, and speculative trading in land became general.
Hence, in a study of the merchant-State as it appeared full-blown in America, it is a point of utmost importance to remember that from the time of the first colonial settlement to the present day, America has been regarded as a practically limitless field for speculation in rental-values.
One may say at a safe venture that every colonial enterpriser and proprietor after Raleigh’s time understood economic rent and the conditions necessary to enhance it. The Swedish, Dutch and British trading-companies understood this; Endicott and Winthrop, of the autonomous merchant-State on the Bay, understood it; so did Penn and the Calverts; so did the Carolinian proprietors, to whom Charles II granted a lordly belt of territory south of Virginia, reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific; and as we have seen, Roger Williams and Clarke understood it perfectly. Indeed, land-speculation may be put down as the first major industry established in colonial America. Professor Sakolski calls attention to the fact that it was flourishing in the South before the commercial importance of either negroes or tobacco was recognized. These two staples came fully into their own about 1670 – tobacco perhaps a little earlier, but not much – and before that, England and Europe had been well covered by a lively propaganda of Southern landholders, advertising for settlers.
Mr. Sakolski makes it clear that very few original enterprisers in American rental-values ever got much profit out of their ventures. This is worth remarking here as enforcing the point that what gives rise to economic rent is the presence of a population engaged in a settled exercise of the economic means, or as we commonly put it, “working for a living” – or again, in technical terms, applying labour and capital to natural resources for the production of wealth. It was no doubt a very fine dignified thing for Carteret, Berkeley, and their associate nobility to be the owners of a province as large as the Carolinas, but if no population were settled there, producing wealth by exercise of the economic means, obviously not a foot of it would bear a pennyworth of rental-value, and the proprietors’ chance of exercising the political means would therefore be precisely nil. Proprietors who made the most profitable exercise of the political means have been those – or rather, speaking strictly, the heirs of those – like the Brevoorts, Wendels, Whitneys, Astors, and Goelets, who owned land in an actual or prospective urban centre, and held it as an investment rather than for speculation.
The lure of the political means in America, however, gave rise to a state of mind which may profitably be examined. Under the feudal State, living by the political means was enabled only by the accident of birth, or in some special cases by the accident of personal favour. Persons outside these categories of accident had no chance whatever to live otherwise than by the economic means. No matter how much they may have wished to exercise the political means, or how greatly they may have envied the privileged few who could exercise it, they were unable to do so; the feudal regime was strictly one of status. Under the merchant-State, on the contrary, the political means was open to anyone, irrespective of birth or position, who had the sagacity and determination necessary to get at it. In this respect, America appeared as a field of unlimited opportunity. The effect of this was to produce a race of people whose master-concern was to avail themselves of the opportunity. They had but the one spring of action, which was the determination to abandon the economic means as soon as they could, and at any sacrifice of conscience or character, and live by the political means. From the beginning, this determination has been universal, amounting to monomania.
We need not concern ourselves here with the effect upon the general balance of advantage produced by supplanting the feudal State by the merchant-State; we may observe only that certain virtues and integrities were bred by the regime of status, to which the regime of contract appears to be inimical, even destructive. Vestiges of them persist among peoples who have had a long experience of the regime of status, but in America, which has had no such experience, they do not appear. What the compensations for their absence may be, or whether they may be regarded as adequate, I repeat, need not concern us; we remark only the simple fact that they have not struck root in the constitution of the American character at large, and apparently can not do so.