The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12
At the suggestion of many eminent and advanced politicians and thinkers, of the democratic school, it has been decided to reduce the proposal to place a Progressive Tax on Land to the convenient form of a pamphlet, in order that the principle and policy may be discussed on every political platform at the approaching general election.
The partial success of Free Selection, involving, as it does, the necessity of the extension of road and bridge accommodation to a degree hitherto uncalled for, and the daily increase of public expenditure, render a resort to some method of supplementing our present revenue imperative. The legislation of the past has not only permitted, but encouraged, the accumulation of land in estates of such enormous dimensions, that their general effect may safely be said to be demoralising to the holders and oppressive to the community. It is principally to correct this state of things that the Progressive Tax is proposed. The number of non-producers, as compared with the number of producers, is becoming alarmingly large. The necessity for altering the proportion and restoring the balance must commend itself to every thinking man in the community. This can only be done by forcing the lands out of a state of idleness into a condition of productiveness. This may be said to be an interference with the liberty of the subject; the freedom to do as he likes with his own. So also is the Vagrant Act an interference with the liberty of the subject; the motive power of the lock-up is applied to the lazy man, and the motive power of taxation should be applied to lazy land. From time immemorial the exclusive occupation of land has been conditional. In this respect, modern democracy and ancient feudalism meet. The Companion-in-Arms of William the Norman held his land on condition of service. So many acres of land so many men-at-arms supplied to the State. A Land Tax is State service expressed in money. A Progressive Land Tax goes a step further, and, without making it penal, certainly renders it page 4 unprofitable to be the possessor of exceptionally large estates. Taxation is an incident of the present proposal; but an incident of large proportions. More money will be wanted shortly. In a very few years we shall have an army of Civil Service pensioners, and the number of incipient claimants is increasing daily. Where is the money to come from? The back of labour cannot be burdened with another straw. Two-thirds of the producing population have generously consented to tax themselves in order that the other third may firmly establish their trades and manufactures amongst us. In all future schemes of taxation labour will have to be left out of the calculation. What then is the legitimate resource in this approaching extremity? The reply hitherto has been almost spontaneous, "Tax the land." This interests everyone without exception. It interests ninety per cent, beneficially, and the other ten per cent, quite the reverse. To the producer—of no matter what, it may be boots, bread, or gold—it means additional hands to help him in doing the world's work, feeding the idle, and maintaining the helpless; to the non-producer, it means, a loss of acres and importance, and a loss of that dangerous power to oppress, which is the inevitable tendency of vast wealth in the hands of a few. But there is also another consideration which renders these suggestions of paramount importance at the present moment. The Legislative Council has become impracticable and obstructive. It is in a I state of chronic antagonism with the thought of the age. It has degenerated into a corporation for the perpetuation of privileges, and the protection of monopoly. Practically irresponsible as it is itself, all agreement between it and a representative body must be partial, or accidental, or based on undignified compromise. Mere reform as applied to the Legislative Council would be public mockery. Reconstruction or abolition are the only remedies. The Progressive Land Tax will effect this object. The rejection of these resolutions by the Council when submitted in the form of a Money Bill would bring about a crisis. This in firm hands would lead to the peaceful establishment of a Provisional Government, loyal alike to Queen and law, but with a determination to put the constitutional machinery in working order. At present the State engines are not only not coupled on one shaft, but they are working independently, and at right angles to each other, with what progress anyone may see, and with the whole responsibility of the absence of progress or wrong direction, when any advance is made, thrust on the Assembly. There is no consideration in colonial politics which will bring the Council and the country squarely face to face but the Progressive Land Tax. It is just, and hateful because it is just. These suggestions may be commended to the? page 5 careful consideration of the thoughtful and the fearless, without the shadow of a suspicion of egotism resting on the writer. I am not the author of the idea. That credit, so far as I am aware, belongs to Mr. George Craib. Of however little importance that may bo, the proposal is one which contains within itself—as the acorn contains the oak—the germ of emancipation to millions. It would place man, in all the civilised countries of the world, in his proper and natural relation to the land. It would take the Egyptian curse of enforced sterility from off the face of the soil, and open the gates of abundance to the countless thousands of those who now pant for work and bread. A Progressive Land Tax would produce the long-expected jubilee of nations, when the land will return to the tribes. By the advice, and with the help of many friends, I cast this bread on the political waters. Example alone is wanting. Nations are on the watch for the coming dawn, and in the language of "Festus":—
"We may make the whole world free,
And be ourselves as free as ever: more!"
In the confident hope that the Progressive Land Tax may figure prominently on every political platform in the colony, and by the will of the people be embodied in practical legislation before many months will have passed away, I submit the suggestion to the serious attention of everybody in Victoria, and remain,