Frederick Verinder: My Neighbor's
Landmark: Short Studies in Bible Land Laws (1911) — Chapter 2: First
Principles: "The Earth is The Lord's"
THE general principles upon which the Hebrew Land Laws were based are absolutely
fatal to the idea of private property in land. It would be too little to
say that land monopoly was treated with great severity by the Law: the Law
expressly designed to make it impossible, for the Lawgiver knew that there
can be no social justice in a State while what Herbert Spencer called "the
equal right to the use of the earth" is denied to its members.
§ 2. The keynote is struck in the very first sentence of the Pentateuch. "In
the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," and is frequently
repeated elsewhere. "The sea is His, and He made it and His hands formed
the dry land." "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof;
the world and they that dwell therein. For He hath founded it upon the seas,
and established it upon the floods." "The world is Mine, and the
fulness thereof." "Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is My throne,
and the earth is My footstool … for all those things hath Mine hand made." God
Almighty is, therefore, by right of creation, the only landlord. When the late
Lord Salisbury attempted, in the House of Lords, to justify the preferential
claim of the landlord over all the other creditors of the farmer, on the ground
that "the landlord furnishes the land" to the farmer, his statement
would have been regarded by the Hebrew Lawgiver as blasphemous, and would
probably have been characterised by the plain-speaking Amos in language
to which most
of our newspapers would hesitate to accord the honor of a verbatim report.
34 In 1885, Speech on the "British Agricultural Association Bill." The
Bill proposed "to enable a company of capitalists to lend money to the
farmer against his crop," the crop being ear-marked, as against other
creditors, for the repayment of the advance. "But it is to be noticed," said
this sturdy champion of landlordism, "that it is not proposed that he
(the capitalist) should stand before the landlord, because that would not be
just. The landlord furnishes the land, and the capitalist the capital, and
it would not be fair that the capitalist should come and thrust the landlord
aside, and stand before him. The landlord's interest is saved. He has an absolute
veto on any proceedings under this bill."
... Read the whole chapter ,
Frederick Verinder: My Neighbor's
Landmark: Short Studies in Bible Land Laws (1911) — Chapter 3: The
Meaning of the Landmark
"Selfishness," says a modern writer, referring to a similar but
shorter passage in Isa. v. 8-10, "is the great sin in all ages and peoples.
As soon as national institutions have awakened the sense of personality and
the feeling of self-respect, the desire of accumulating wealth grows with them.
And in no form is it more liable to abuse than in connection with possession
of land. Men desire, by an almost universal instinct, to possess property in
land. … Yet, since the land cannot be increased in quantity, its possession
by one man is the exclusion of another, and the Hebrew laws endeavor to meet
this difficulty by special provisions, the breach or evasion of which the prophet
now denounces in His first 'woe' on the selfish landowner. He who can join
house to house, and lay field to field, when he knows, and long has known,
face to face, the very man, wife and child whom he has dispossessed, and can
drive out by his own simple act his fellow-men to be desolate in their poverty,
in order that he may be alone in his riches, may expect a punishment proportioned
to his crime. Such men were the nobles of Judah and Israel throughout the land;
and the prophet heard ringing in his ears, the declaration of Jehovah, the
King of the land, that the great and fair palaces should become as desolate
as the peasants' and yeomen's cottages which had made place for them: — the
vineyard of ten acres shall yield but eight gallons of wine, and the cornfield
shall give back but a tenth part of the seed sown in it." ... Read the whole chapter,
Frederick Verinder: My Neighbor's
Landmark: Short Studies in Bible Land Laws (1911) — 4:
The Year of Jubilee: Land and Liberty
§ 1. The equal division of the land gave to every family in the Commonwealth
of Israel direct access to the soil. There was little room for the growth of
involuntary poverty in a community whose Law did not permit the divorce of
land from labor. "He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread," "shall
be satisfied with bread." It is very significant that while Moses (no
doubt "for the hardness of their hearts," Mark 10:5) did permit to
the Hebrews a certain form of chattel-slavery — then probably universal
among Eastern nations — though hedging it about with unusually stringent
limitations, yet he prohibited absolutely that more insidious form of slavery,
landlordism, which reduces men to subjection by monopolising the natural elements
necessary to their existence. "The bread of the needy is their life:
he that defraudeth him thereof is a man of blood. He that taketh away his
living slayeth him; and he that defraudeth the laborer of his hire is a
§ 9. The Law clearly recognises the fact that slavery, in one
form or another, is caused by the denial of equal rights in land. So
long as the Hebrew retained his foothold upon the land, he enjoyed freedom
and had within his hand the opportunity of winning a comfortable subsistence
by honest toil. No landlord could rack-rent him for permission to till
the ground, or confiscate the results of his industry by raising the
his improvements. Economically and politically, he was a free man. But
if, in the course of time, he lost to another man his share in the land — through
misfortune, or laziness, or vice on his own part; or through the cunning
or violence of his fellows — he must either become a tramp, or
hire himself for wages to a brother-Israelite. To the man who gained
by such a
transaction it meant the beginning of monopoly: to the man who lost,
and to his family, a descent into social slavery. Wage-slavery is the
"And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold
unto thee thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: but as an
hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve
thee unto the year of Jubilee: and then he shall depart from thee, both he
and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto
the possession of his fathers shall he return. For they are My servants,
which I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as
bondmen. Thou shalt not rule over him with rigor; but shalt fear thy God" (Lev.
The kidnapping of a brother Hebrew into slavery was punishable by death.
But the Hebrews were permitted to make slaves of the captives of war, and
slaves of "the heathen that are round about you," to treat them
as property, and to leave them as an inheritance to their children.165
165 The later teaching, fully developed only in the N.
T., extended the older Jewish conception of the brotherhood of the children
of Abraham so as to include all the children of Adam. ("Christwas
not the second Abraham, but the second Adam" -- Rev. Thos. Hancock.)
When Malachi (2:10) asked: "Have we not all one Father? hath not one
God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother,
by profaning the covenant of our fathers?" he was thinking only of
his own nation. But the universal Fatherhood of God, as preached by Jesus
Christ, and by St. Paul on Mars' Hill, made slavery logically impossible
to Christians. "God that made the world and all things therein . .
. hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of
the earth. .. . .. As certain also of your own poets have said, For we
also are His offspring." (Acts 17: 24, 26, 28). In the Jews' morning
prayer, the men, in three consecutive benedictions; bless God "Who
hath not made me a Gentile . . . a slave . ..a woman" (Taylor, Sayings
J.F., p. 15, n.). St. Paul certainly had this prayer in mind when he dictated
Gal. 3:28. (The reason why the Jewish ritual contains the passage "not
'-.. . a Gentile. . . a slave. ...a woman" is, that these three classes
were exempt from certain religious obligations.,..- S.] Jesus ben Sirach
exhorts the master, for motives of self-interest, to "entreat" the
slave whom he has bought ''as a brother" (Ecclus. 33: 30, 31). St.
Paul may have been thinking of this passage when he wrote about the runaway
slave Onesimus (Philem. 16)., but the reason he gives is based on higher
Even foreign settlers among the Hebrews were subject to the law of Jubilee,
so far as their Hebrew slaves were concerned. If a rich foreigner bought
a Hebrew as his slave, he must treat him as "a yearly hired servant," and
must set him free in the Year of Jubilee, if he had not, in the meantime,
been able to redeem himself, or been redeemed by a kinsman.
So, once in every generation did the Law "proclaim liberty to the captives" in "the
acceptable Year of the Lord." Well does one of the prophets call it "the
Year of Liberty."
The emancipation of the man and the restoration of the land go hand in hand.
The same law applies to both: the Jubilee sets them both equally free. Means
are provided by which, even before the Jubilee, under favoring conditions,
the man may be redeemed from bondage, or the land from the hand of the stranger.
There are few tracts on the Land Question so thought-provoking as to the first
principles of just social relationships as the little leaflet which has floated
down to us through the ages, and which we usually refer to as the twenty-fifth
chapter of Leviticus. The details of the legislation there recorded have long
ceased to have other than an antiquarian interest, but the principles they
embody and illustrate are eternal. We have here at once one of the most ancient
and one of the most modern treatises on the Land Question; for it is based
on the fundamental truth that
- private property in land is private property in man;
- that landlordism is slavery;
- that Land and Liberty are both essential to the well-being of a Nation. Read the whole chapter,
Frederick Verinder: My Neighbor's
Landmark: Short Studies in Bible Land Laws (1911) — Appendix
A. The Encroachments of Injustice
The setting up of a privileged class —
"He (the King) will take your fields, and your vineyards and
your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
And He will take the
tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give them to his
officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants,
and your maidservants,
and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them
to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep, and ye shall be
his servants. And ye
shall cry out in that day because of your king, which ye shall
have chosen you" (1 Sam. 8:14-18; cp. Ezek. 46:16-18; Jer. 22:13-17,
on which see above, Chap. 7 § 3).
"Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth
gifts [i.e. bribes], and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless,
neither does the cause of the widow come unto them. Therefore saith the Lord,
the Lord of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease Me of Mine adversaries,
and avenge Me of Mine enemies" (Isa. 1:23, 24).
— leads to land monopoly —
"The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people. The
Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of His people, and the princes
thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your
houses. What mean ye that ye beat My people to pieces, and grind the faces
of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts"(Isa. 3:13-15).
"Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till
there be no room, and ye be made to dwell alone in the midst of the earth!" (Isa.
5:8 [R.V.]; cp. Mic. 2, 3, on which see above, Chap. 3. § 10).
"Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness
which they have prescribed; to turn aside the needy from judgment, and
to take away the right from the poor of My people, that widows may be their
that they may rob the fatherless" (Isa. 10: 1, 2). ...
Land monopoly, by its economic wastefulness —
"In mine ears saith the Lord of hosts, Of a truth many houses shall
be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant. For ten acres of vineyard
one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah" (Isa.
5: 9, 10 [R.V.]; cp. Amos 3:15).
"And as for you, O My flock, thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I judge
between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he-goats. Seemeth
it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must
with feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the
deep [R.V. clear] waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet?
And as for
my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they
drink that which
ye have fouled with your feet."
"Therefore thus saith the Lord God unto them; Behold I, even I, will
judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle. Because ye have
thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your
ye have scattered them abroad; therefore will I save My flock, and they
shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle." (Ezek.
34:17-22 cp. Prov. 13:23 [R.V.]). ...
C. The Restoration of Equal Rights
Nehemiah holds a mass meeting —
"Then there arose a great cry of the people and of their wives against
their brethren the Jews. For there were that said, We, our sons and
our daughters, are many; let us get corn, that we may eat and live. Some
there were that
said, We are mortgaging our fields, and our vineyards, and our houses;
let us get corn, because of the dearth. There were also that said,
We have borrowed
money for the King's tribute upon our fields and our vineyards. Yet
now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children:
lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants,
some of our daughters are brought into bondage already: neither is
it in our power
to help it; for other men have our fields and vineyards.
"And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. Then
I consulted with myself, and contended with the nobles and the rulers
and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And
I held a great assembly against them."
— to demand the abolition of land monopoly without compensation —
"And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren
the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and would ye even sell your
brethren, and should they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and
a word. Also I said, The thing that ye do is not good: ought ye not to
walk in the fear of our God, because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies.
And I likewise, my brethren and my servants, do lend them money and corn
usury. I pray you, let us leave off this usury. Restore, I pray you, to
them, even this day, their fields, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and
also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the
oil, that ye exact of them." ... Read the whole appendix,
1. Land: The Hope
of the Oppressed on Every Continent
At the start of the 1990s, while the Berlin Wall and the authoritarian regimes
in Eastern Europe toppled, Latin American communities and clergy who were
operating under the banner of liberation theology began throwing off the
yoke of oppression.
The uprising of subjected peoples around the world lends immediacy to the
search for genuine liberation. While many emphasize political matters, equally
critical are the ethical and economic underpinnings of liberation. To ignore
these will likely result in a tragic disillusionment for the people who have
made the enormous sacrifices to chart new courses.
In How the Other Half Dies,
Susan George wrote that "The most pressing cause of the abject
poverty which millions of people in this world endure is that a
mere 2.5% of landowners with more
than 100 hectares control nearly three quarters of all the land
in the world - with the top 0.23% controlling half." To recognize this social plague for what it is, and
to avert a backlash of despair, requires a clear understanding of two great
themes: the Promised Land and the Wasteland.
The Promised Land is the hope of the
landless, literally, land, the gateway to opportunity. Abraham
in Mesopotamia and the Israelites in bondage in Egypt so wished
for their own land that they left homes and familiar surroundings
and risked death
to seek the distant place God had promised, a land rich in
milk and honey, where a day's labor would put food on the table
and allow their children
to grow into adulthood. This exodus pattern has been repeated
over and over, from the migrations of prehistory to the boat
people of our day.
For centuries, immigrants have poured into the Americas, looking
for the inheritance denied to them in the Old World — their
portion of land.
But the Promised Land is not so much a geographic place as
it is a hope and a vision of a just social order. Modern
society has many wondrous features,
but it certainly is not the Promised Land in its full glory. Indeed,
we are "modern
captives" who sense the Promised Land as a primitive instinct,
as a deep longing, and as a cry from the depths of our captivity
that the world should
All of us, no less than the Hebrews
in Egypt, are captives of structures imposed upon us. To enslave people,
today as three thousand years ago, is to rob them of the value of their
labor. Millions of working people living in severe poverty are robbed
of the fruits of their labor. Through various forms of exploitation,
especially the monopolization of land rights, large segments of humanity
are oppressed, dehumanized, held in bondage. One factor enabling governments to legalize
land theft and lend respectability to exploitative landlordism is the
general silence of religious and intellectual leaders about humanity's
common rights to land.
We begin to penetrate and
overcome this silence when we realize that the Wasteland is
wasted land, unfulfilled
potential, producing no "milk and honey." Speculators in both
urban and rural areas hoard land on which the hungry, the homeless,
and the jobless could feed, shelter, and employ themselves. Keeping
valuable lands idle causes artificial shortages that drive up rents
which poor people must pay for poor land. Land hoarding deserves much of the blame for creating
the Wasteland: it forces people into the "desert." There,
people find the oases controlled by more land monopolists
who must be paid
a ransom for access to nature's life-sustaining water. And
as we will see, the primary focus of Biblical economic laws
was the prevention
of precisely this sort of usurpation of God's gifts to all
The midbar, the biblical
Wasteland, is only part desert. It has towns and pastures, but it
lacks the "fullness
of life." This anomaly is mirrored in the modern Wasteland, crowded with factories,
skyscrapers and mansions — along with ugly blight and squalid
The point of departure of liberation theology is the recognition of the awful
fact that millions lead subhuman lives. The rural landless seek refuge in cities,
often becoming squatters in barrios or favelas with open sewage and no safe water
supply. They may earn fifteen dollars a month if they find work at all. Children
live in the streets and go to bed hungry. Illness and drought, and even complaining
of their lot, may lead to premature death. And they can see the Mercedes behind
the iron gates of walled mansions. (Ironically, mercedes is also
a Spanish legal term denoting title to a large grant of land.) Like poor Lazarus
in the parable of Jesus (Luke 16:19-31), they survive on the crumbs that fall
from the rich man's table. When judgement comes to the rich man, he receives
no mercy because he had shown none.
2. Latin American Colonialism
and its Legacy of Bondage
Just as the Hebrews in Egypt toiled beneath the yoke of Pharaoh and his taskmasters,
so did the peoples of Latin America for centuries endure bondage to colonial
And just as remnants of the slave mentality persisted among the Hebrews in the
wilderness, so does the legacy of colonial attitudes and institutions persist
in Latin America today.
The image of Christ dying in passive agony on the cross, and the image of the
Blessed Virgin as a dolorous woman in mourning and pierced by a sword, are common
in popular Latin American Catholicism. They speak of centuries of impotence under
Spanish and other foreign masters. Even today many practicing Roman Catholics
approach carnival as a temporary relief from suffering — a
reality that was present yesterday and will be here tomorrow, always. In this
sense, carnival is escapism — for
a few days. Then real life continues.
The origins of this suffering are clearly to be found in the aristocratic system
imposed by papal bull and the armed might of Spain and Portugal, a system that
relegated the indigenous Indian population to a life of slavery, at best. In Inter
Caeteris, Pope Alexander VI designated King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella "lords
and masters" of the New World. Thus were the treasure stores of gold and silver,
and later coffee and beef, thrown open — to a well-defined elite.
The encomienda was the basic instrument used by the Spanish empire
for settling Latin America. This was a grant of Indians to an encomendero who
assumed the obligation, in principle, of Christianizing and civilizing them.
The Indians, "in exchange," were required to provide labor and tribute to Spain. We
look back upon this epoch as a period of brutal and cynical "pacification" of
the indigenous people by conquering exploiters. But it is important to recognize
that the encomenderos who were charged
with "Christianizing" the natives took their jobs seriously enough to allow
the clergy to move in and do their evangelical works without interference.
It may be tempting, now, to view those early missionaries as merely cynical
agents of colonial expansionism — but in fact, it could not have been
so. The enduring pervasive influence of the Catholic Church in Latin America
attests to the success of those missionaries on the front lines. Had they not
been motivated by a sincere Christian faith, they could not have left such
an indelible mark on an entirely different culture.
However, religious works cannot avoid their political context (an insight of
the liberation theologians). Although in theory the encomienda was not a grant of land, in practice
many of the encomienderos were also
granted mercedes, or legal title to
vast tracts that gave rise to the late estates. After the encomienda system
was abolished, this control of land allowed the economic exploitation of the
natives to continue.
Two types of large landed estates survive
to this day from the colonial period:
Initially, Indians were given as slaves
landholders. Later, the "freed" natives were tied to the landowners through
debts brought on by a subsistence wage system. The shortage of good land off
made it easy for the landlord to
attract or coerce labor onto his estate.
This pattern continues today with an underclass
largely descended from the Indian and African slaves, along with other dispossessed
groups. The haciendas and plantations are noted for their inefficient husbandry.
Landowners face few social or economic pressures to become good managers, and
often live in the cities leaving
the estates to be run by overseers
- the hacienda (or fazenda, in Portuguese), raising cattle and
a diversity of crops for local use or sale; and
- the plantation, raising a single exportable crop.
. Consequently, the landowners often
do not make large profits, but that is not their objective. Their primary concern is the maintenance
of the two paramount features of the status quo, which go
hand in hand.
- First, labor is very cheap, because workers have no alternative place to
employ themselves, even though massive tracts of good land are held nearly
idle by the land barons.
- Second, the cost of holding on to huge estates — i.e., the taxes
charged by the public for the privilege of retaining possession — are
low or effectively nonexistent.
Strong incentives for good stewardship are as absent as the landlords.
There is also little incentive to productivity;
most of the population has no share in the fruits of the land or the profits
of the estates. The colonial system of land tenure discourages the
creation of capital, with most of the surplus from the land going to purchase
luxury goods that are produced at the expense of more useful manufacture
or more often are imported, thereby straining the country's balance of payments.
The situation in the cities is no better for the poor. who are drawn there
by word of mouth, radio, television and films that present the cities as
if they are the Promised Land. Of course, the image is false. So many landless
folk seeking employment in the cities have turned them into places of great
degradation. Urban land monopoly and speculation create tremendous housing
difficulties for the poor. For example, in 1950, 36% of Brazil's people lived
in cities, in 1988, 75% do so. Thus, the city of Sao Paulo has grown from
ca. 2.2 million in 1950 to ca. 17 million in less than forty years. Of these,
we are told that one third are favelados, landless urban squatters, and
over 2.5 million are street children.
Indeed, the primary purpose of holding
vast amounts of land, as Andre Gunder Frank writes in On Capitalist Underdevelopment, "is
not to use it but to prevent its use by others. These others, denied access
to the primary resource, necessarily fall under the domination of the few
who do control it. And then they are exploited in all conceivable ways,
typically through low wages."
3. The Promised Land
and the Promise of Land Reform
The underclasses in Latin America envision something better for
themselves and their children. As a consequence, many Latin American
attempted to institute some type of land reform. Since the structures of
oppression were not developed autonomously, many of the reforms were aimed
at foreign exploitation. Examples include the nationalization of the oil
fields in Chile in 1923, in Argentina in 1924, in Mexico in 1938, in Brazil
in 1950, and in Peru in 1969. Sometimes, however, the nationalization has
targeted advantaged groups within the country, such as that of Bolivia's
tin industry in 1952, when more than half the industry was owned by the
family. (This, interestingly, follows the colonial practice of reserving
gold and silver for the king, and is more characteristic of Latin America
than of the former English colonies, the United States.) Outside of legislating
control over mineral and gas resources, however, there have been relatively
few real attempts at rural agrarian land reform, and virtually none at
urban land reform.
Mexico attempted land reform in the mid-1800s after expropriating the Church's
estates, and in 1917 after the revolution that toppled the Diaz oligarchy.
Before the revolution began in 1911, two-tenths of one per cent of the population
owned estates, and 88.4% were landless laborers. The goal of the Mexican
constitution of 1917 was to redistribute some of the land among the peasants,
directly in small holdings, and as grants called ejidos to
communities. The latter allowed individuals the right to cultivate plots
of community land without buying or renting them. It seemed like a good idea,
but there was not enough land to give small holdings to all the landless
laborers. Over a quarter of the national territory (more than 55 million
hectares) was expropriated and redivided between 1924 and 1970. But with
the withdrawal of state support in the form of credit, water resources, transportation
and marketing advantages, and technical assistance, the ejidos could not compete successfully with
private farms. Other land redistribution attempts have occurred in other
Latin American countries, such as Bolivia, Peru, and Cuba, with similar mixed
Latin America's most promising approach to land reform was the "Law
of Emphyteusis" adopted in 1826 under the influence of Argentina's
founding president, Bernardino Rivadavia. Emphyteusis, in ancient
Roman law, denoted a perpetual lease of lands and tenements in consideration
of annual rent and of improvements. Its enactment quickly resulted
in new settlements, new employment opportunities, and the cultivation of
hitherto neglected lands. A series of decrees was promulgated to correct
administrative defects, but before they became operative, Rivadavia resigned.
His bitter opponent, Colonel Dorrengo, proceeded to emasculate the program,
a process completed by dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas, who conferred huge
land grants upon himself and his minions, eliminating almost wholly the public
collection of ground rent. The inland provinces became practically depopulated,
and the Emphyteutic Law was finally repealed in 1857.
Effective land reform in Latin America,
as elsewhere, has scarcely taken place.
One of the major obstacles is
that many governments are run or controlled by a powerful elite
that owns the most valuable land, and often retards and corrupts
the reform process.
Foreign enterprises also fight the reforms by threatening to withdraw
They are aided by fiscally conservative politicians who argue that
stability is necessary for economic development, even at the expense
of ignoring the exploitation of the poor, who are poorly represented
in the political process.
And the few that have been enacted have been plagued by a host
of problems, and often merely reposition the former landowners, thanks
to compensation for expropriated lands, as the new monopolists of
trade and money lending, able to renew their exploitation of the
Turning to their religious
heritage for answers to severe injustice and suffering due to land
seems natural to liberation theologians and their followers. In the
Bible, the Promised Land is characterized by the "eminent domain" of
God. The abundance of the land comes with the recognition that the
earth is the Lord's. Otherwise, we continue in the Wasteland. ...
9. Claiming the Promised Land: A New Jubilee for
a New World
In the book of Joshua, we find that although the Promised Land is a gift from
God, it is a gift that has to be claimed. Even before the actual conquest of
the Promised Land, the Mosaic Law prescribed a method whereby possession of land
was to be rendered pleasing in God's sight. The Canaanites' claim was forfeited
by their idolatry, with human sacrifice and temple prostitution, and by their
monopolistic social order. By contrast, Israel, to make good its claim, had to institute
a social order that would guard against the desecration, pollution, and injustices
of which its predecessors were guilty, and would secure to each family and to
every generation within the Hebrew commonwealth the equal right to the use of
the land, of
which the Lord was recognized as the sole absolute owner.
They began with a census of the tribes and families before the conquest (Num.
26:1-51). Every tribe, excepting Levi, and within each tribe every family, was
to receive its proportionate share, according to size (Num. 26:55-56), and ultimately,
to ensure fairness, by lot (Num. 34:16-29). The actual distribution, according
to these provisions, was
concluded at Shiloh (Josh. 19:51). According
to ancient historian Josephus, the territory was not divided into shares of equal
size but of equal agricultural value. The landmarks that protected these allotments
were protected by the public and solemn denunciation of a curse against anyone
who should dishonestly tamper
(Deut. 27:11-16; 19:14).
As discovered again in our own century, it is
easier to devise a one-time fair apportionment of land that it is to keep the
system from falling apart. This is why the ancient law established the Jubilee
year. At the end of every fifty years, any alienated lands — given away,
or lost from unpaid
debts — would be restored to the original families.
were to be compensated for any unexhausted improvements they may have made on
the land. Concentrated landownership, and the division of society into landed
and landless classes, was thereby prevented from
creeping into the system. The Jubilee
effectively took the profit out of landholding as such, leaving no incentive
for speculation. When it was observed — and historical records indicate
it was observed for long periods — the Jubilee system successfully removed
root cause of poverty from the Jewish
The influence of the Jubilee idea upon early
is evidenced by the inscription on the Liberty
Bell of the biblical words enjoining the Jubilee year: "Proclaim Liberty throughout
all the land unto all the inhabitants
thereof." (Lev. 25:10) The founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, advocated that
all men be "tenants to the public", and to defray public expenses instituted
a tax on land.
Environmental concern also goes back to biblical
To prevent the exhaustion of the soil, a periodic fallow was
ordered. "During one year in every seven, the soil, left to the influences of
sun and frost, wind and rain, was to be allowed to 're-create' itself after six
years' cropping, exactly as the tiller of the soil renewed his strength, after
six days' work, by his
Sabbath day's rest."
As noted, the tribe of Levi did not share in
the equal division of the land, since it was charged with carrying out religious
and public duties
. Its members were entitled to an indemnity from the
eleven tribes who received the land
that otherwise would have gone to them. This indemnity was the tithe — one-tenth of
product from the land occupied by the eleven other tribes.
Here, in principle, is the formula for a just
land system in almost any time or place. The compensation to the Levites maintained
the substance of equal rights to land, alongside of and compatible with unequal
physical division of the land itself.
As Frederick Verinder pointed out
in his book My Neighbour's
joint heirs of
house may share it equally by occupying it equally or
unequally but "paying the rental into a common fund, from which each draws an
equal share; or they may let the whole house to someone else and divide the rent
equally." So it is with land.
Sharing equally in the economic rent or value of land through the application
of that value to common uses from which all benefit, renders private ownership
and unequal partition of land morally and
The modern equivalent of removing one's neighbor's
landmark is thus not the private ownership of land per se, but rather the private
appropriation of land value.
profit of the earth is for all" (Eccles. 5:9). The Old Testament ethic, to assure
everyone the same natural opportunity, asserts that all people have an equal
right to economic rent, and the Levite tithe demonstrates that the socialization
of rent offsets the ethical and practical harm resulting from private land ownership.
But there is
another basis for its advocacy: Rent should
be taken by society because it is a social product. Rent arises in large measure
from two societal phenomena: the mere presence of population, and community activity
in a particular area.
More people means more demand for space on which
to live and work. Community activities such as roads, schools, protection, parks,
sewage, utilities and other public services, as well as the totality of private
commercial and cultural operations, all make land more productive or desirable.
It follows that a community which funds such improvements out of its rent fund
will be provided with a stable and growing fund with which to maintain and improve
them. And unlike conventional taxes, the collection of this fund will enhance,
not penalize, the production
Individuals, in their bare capacity as landowners,
do nothing to produce land value. By withholding sites from use, whether for
speculation or for other reasons, they may generate scarcity, artificially inflating
rent, but this does not reflect any positive contribution to production on the
part of landowners.
While land value is not the only type of unearned increment, unearned income
resulting from such advantages as talent, genes or luck is not at the expense
of others. Even Karl Marx admitted: "The monopoly of property in land is even
the basis of the monopoly of capital." Marx could have — but did not — champion
the abolition of land monopoly; instead he advocated its transfer from private
into state hands. It was left to Henry George to expound how the universal
principles of justice found in the Mosaic model could be applied to the modern
age in all its economic aspects — rural and urban, agricultural and industrial,
technologically undeveloped or
What George advocated was to leave land titles
in private hands but to appropriate land rent via the existing machinery of property
taxation. "I do not propose either to purchase or to confiscate private property
in land. The first would be unjust; the second, needless....It is not necessary
to confiscate land;
it is only necessary to confiscate rent." No owner or tenant would be expropriated
or evicted. No limit would be placed on the quantity of land one could hold,
as long as the annual rent were paid.
Coordinately with the capture of rent
as public revenue, taxes on products of human labor — improvements, personal
property, services, commodities, wages, etc. — would be reduced and ultimately
George considered his remedy no mere human contrivance. He saw the growth of
land value and the easy means of equitably distributing it as an expression of
benevolent supernatural design: "As civilization goes on... so do the common
wants increase and so does the necessity for public revenue arise. And so in
that value which attaches to land, not by reason of anything the individual does,
but by reason of the growth of the community, is a provision intended — we
safely say intended — to meet that social want."
George's remedy goes a long way to stop current
inequity and prevent future inequity. While past inequity, in the form of accumulations
of capital based on previous land speculation and monopoly cannot be accurately
redressed, these fortunes can be impelled to serve the needs of the public via
production, not by further investment in land speculation and monopoly.
Dependency theory, to the degree that it hits upon one of the causes of Third
World poverty in exploitation by foreign investors, can find in George's land
value tax the constructive practical approach it lacks. Neither erection of trade
barriers nor legal restriction of foreign ownership is called for. As one Australian
writer puts it:
from one country buy property in other countries they are seeking site
rent, which they hope to obtain directly from tenants, or indirectly
by selling land in the future when the price or capital value has increased....
The site rent that is so attractive to overseas investors can be kept in
the country quite easily — by shifting taxation from labor onto land."
Because George asserted, "We must make land
common property," he is sometimes erroneously regarded as an advocate
of land nationalization. But, as we have seen, he was nothing
of the sort. The expropriation of land makes it practically impossible
to fairly compensate people for the improvements to land, which are their legitimate
property. George's system renders
to the community what is due to the community, without doing any violence to
the wealth that has been fairly earned by productive
Common property in land is sometimes discredited by equation with what
Garrett Hardin calls "The Tragedy of
the Commons." Referring to the common lands that were a major
English institution until the mid-nineteenth century, Hardin describes
the tendency of
individuals, each rationally pursuing self-interest, to overgraze, denude,
and use the commons as a cesspool. That which belongs to everybody in
is, indeed, in danger of being
valued and maintained by nobody.
The enclosure movement ultimately brought
an end to this ecologically destructive process, but not without literally pushing
people off the land, exacting a baneful price in human misery that might well
be termed "The Tragedy of the Enclosures." George hit upon a way of securing the benefits of
both commons and enclosures, while at the same time avoiding their evils. Land
value taxation rectifies distribution so that all receive wealth in proportion
to their contribution to its production. This liberates the economic system from
contribute little or nothing. Apportioning the wealth pie fairly increases
the incentive to increase the size of the pie. The market becomes in practice
what capitalist theory alleges it to be — a profoundly cooperative
voluntary exchange of goods and services. Paradoxical though it
may seem, the only way the individual may be assured what properly belongs to
him or her is for society to take what properly belongs to it: The ideal of Jeffersonian
individualism requires for its
actualization the socialization of rent.
Just as Marxists err in insisting that
everything be socialized, extreme capitalists err in insisting that everything
parks and forests!) be privatized. The middle way is to recognize society's
claim to what nature and society create — the value of land and its
rent — so
that working people, including entrepreneurs, may claim their full share
of what they create. In this balanced approach can be found the
authentic verities respectively inherent in
socialism and individualism. ...
10. The Promised Land and the Kingdom
The Promised Land, like Eden, is a place of
unhindered scope in which to glorify God and manifest his will. But it is not
the Kingdom of God. It represents liberation from external bondage — from
and restricted access to material
opportunity. It is the temporal matrix within which the Kingdom may find
full expression. But it is not itself the Kingdom. Although it is a heresy that
locates this Kingdom exclusively in the afterlife or an ethereal paradise, Jesus
declared it to be "not of this world" (John
18:36) but "within" (Luke 17:21). It is no reproach to Henry George that he lost
sight of this distinction between the Promised Land and the Kingdom of God, enraptured
by his vision of a just society:
want destroyed; with greed changed to noble passions; with the fraternity
that is born of equality taking the place of jealousy and fear that
now array men against each other; with mental power loosed by conditions
that give to the humblest comfort and leisure; and who shall measure
the heights to which our civilization may soar? Words fail the thought!
It is the Golden Age.... It is the culmination of Christianity — the
City of God on earth, with walls of jasper and gates of pearl! It is
the reign of the Prince of Peace!
By equalizing opportunity, political and
economic liberation tend to draw both poor and rich into the middle class.
As an expression of social justice, this constitutes a genuine advance,
ethical as well as material.
But it is no easy guarantee of
Middle-class traits include virtues such as industry,
thrift, restraint, commercial and professional rectitude, but, on the other hand,
low prudentialism, self-satisfaction, and an inclination to regard material well-being
as a sign of righteousness. Hence, even in the Promised Land, what Paulo Freire
consciousness-raising through social commitment), emphasized and refined by liberation
theology, must continue although in a
different vein. The Kingdom of God will flourish
only when outward liberation gives rise to inward
, a victory over the limitations of the bourgeois
"The Earth Is the Lord's" (Psalm 24:1). This
statement tells us something about God.
He is attached to the land and
loves it. He is not a spiritual abstraction oblivious to the Wasteland in which
we live. God is the maker of the
world of eating and sleeping, working and begetting. It also tells us something of our place in
this world. With God as the true
owner of the earth, every person has a right to the produce which equitable usufruct
yields to his or her efforts.
that "the earth is the Lord's" is to see that
the same God who established communities has also in his providence ordained
for them, through the land itself, a just source of revenue. Yet, in the Wasteland
in which we live, this revenue goes mainly into the pockets of monopolists, while
communities meet their needs by extorting individuals the fruits of their honest
toil. If ever there were any doubt that structural sin
exists, our present system of taxation is the proof. Everywhere we see governments
penalizing individuals for their industry and creativity, while the socially
produced value of land is reaped by speculators in exact proportion to the land
which they withhold. The greater the Wasteland, the greater the reward. Does
this comport with any divine plan, or notion of justice and human rights? Or
does it not, rather, perpetuate the Wasteland and prevent the realization of
This not meant to suggest that land monopolists and speculators have a corner
on acquisitiveness or the "profit motive," which is a well-nigh universal fact
of human nature. As a group, they are no more sinful than are people at large,
except to the degree that they knowingly obstruct reforms aimed at removing the
basis of exploitation. Many
abide by the dictum: "If one has to live under a corrupt system, it is better
to be a beneficiary than a victim of it."
But they do not have to live under a corrupt system; no one does. The profit
motive can be channeled in ways that are socially desirable as well as in ways
that are socially destructive. Let us give testimony to our faith that the earth
is the Lord's by building a social order in which there are no
victims. ... Read the whole synopsis
Yet the great concern of Moses was with the duty that lay
plainly before him; the effort to lay the foundations of a social state
in which deep poverty
and degrading want should be unknown – where people released
from the meaner struggles that waste human energy should have opportunity
and moral development.
Here stands out the greatness of the man. What was the wisdom and stretch
of the forethought that in the desert sought to guard in advance against
the dangers of a settled state, let the present speak!
In the full blaze of the nineteenth century, when every
child in our schools may know as common truths things of which the Egyptian
sages never dreamed;
when the earth has been mapped and the stars have been weighed; when
steam and electricity have been pressed into our service, and science
from nature secret after secret – it is but natural to look
back upon the wisdom of three thousand years ago as an adult looks
upon the learning
of a child.
And yet, for all this wonderful increase of knowledge,
for all this enormous gain of productive power, where is the country
in the civilised world in
which today there is not want and suffering – where the masses are
not condemned to toil that gives no leisure, and all classes are not pursued
by a greed of gain that makes life an ignoble struggle to get and to keep?
Three thousands years of advances, and still the moan goes up: "They
have made our lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick, and
in all manner of service!" Three thousand years of advances!
and the piteous voices of little children are in the moan.
Standing as I stand, where modern ideas have had fullest, freest development;
in the newest great city of the newest great nation; by the side of that
ultimate sea, where ends the westward march of the race that has circled
the globe, and farthest west meets east, the cool shades and sweet waters
whose promise has so long lured us on seem dissolving into mocking mirage.
Over ocean wastes far wider than the Syrian desert we have
sought our promised land – no narrow strip between the mountains and the sea, but a wide
and virgin continent. Here, in greater freedom, with vaster knowledge and
fuller experience, we are building up a nation that leads the van of modern
progress. And yet while we prate of the rights of humanity there are already
many among us thousands who find it difficult to assert the first of natural
rights – the right to earn an honest living; thousands who
from time to time must accept of degrading charity or starve.
We boast of equality before the law; yet notoriously justice is deaf to
the call of those who have no gold and blind to the sin of those who have.
We pride ourselves upon our common schools; yet after our
boys and girls are educated we vainly ask: "What shall we do with them?" And
about our colleges children are growing up in vice and crime, because
homes poverty has driven all refining influences. We pin our faith
to universal suffrage; yet with all power in the hands of the people,
the control of public
affairs is passing into the hands of a class of professional politicians,
and our governments are, in many cases, becoming but a means for
robbery of the people.
We have prohibited hereditary distinctions, we have forbidden titles of
nobility; yet there is growing up an aristocracy of wealth as powerful and
merciless as any that ever held sway.
We progress and we progress; we girdle continents with
iron roads and knit cities together with the mesh of telegraph wires;
each day brings some new
invention, each year marks a fresh advance – the power of production
increased, and the avenues of exchange cleared and broadened. Yet the complaint
of "hard times" is louder and louder; everywhere are people
harassed by care, and haunted by the fear of want. With swift, steady
prodigious leaps, the power of human hands to satisfy human wants
advances and advances, is multiplied and multiplied. Yet the struggle
existence is more and more intense, and human labour is becoming
the cheapest of commodities.
Beside glutted warehouses human beings grow faint with hunger and
shiver with cold; under the shadow of churches festers the vice that
Trace to its roots the cause that is producing want in
the midst of plenty, ignorance in the midst of intelligence, aristocracy
in democracy, weakness
in strength – that is giving to our civilisation a one-sided and unstable
development – and you will find it something which this Hebrew
statesman three thousand years ago perceived and guarded against.
Moses saw that the real cause of the enslavement of the masses
of Egypt was – what has everywhere produced enslavement – the possession
by a class of land upon which and from which the whole people must live.
He saw that to permit in land the same unqualified private ownership that
by natural right attaches to the things produced by labour, would be inevitably
to separate the people into the very rich and the very poor, inevitably to
enslave labour – to make the few the masters of the many, no
matter what the political forms, to bring vice and degradation no
matter what the
And with the foresight of the philosophic statesman who legislates not for
the need of a day, but for all the future, he sought, in ways suited to his
times and conditions, to guard against this error.
Everywhere in the Mosaic institutions is the land treated as
the gift of the Creator to His common creatures, which no one has the
Everywhere it is, not your estate, or your property, not the land
which you bought, or the land which you conquered, but "the land which the Lord
thy God giveth thee" – "the land which the Lord lendeth thee".
And by practical legislation, by regulations to which he gave the highest
sanctions, he tried to guard against the wrong that converted ancient civilisations
into despotisms – the wrong that in after centuries ate out
the heart of Rome, that produced the imbruting serfdom of Poland
and the gaunt misery
of Ireland, the wrong that is today filling American cities with
idle men, and our virgin states with tramps.
He not only provided for a redistribution of the land among the people,
and for making it fallow and common every seventh year, but by the institution
of the Jubilee he provided for a redistribution of the land every fifty years,
and made monopoly impossible. ... Read the whole speech