Winston Churchill – land reformer

by Karl Fitzgerald on January 31, 2014

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young-winston-churchill

(1874 – 1965)

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“The socially-produced value of the land is reaped by the speculator in exact proportion, not to the service, but to the disservice, done.  The greater the injury to society, the greater the reward.”

Is it too inflated a claim to count Churchill a Geoist? As a political opportunist who switched horses from the Conservatives to the Liberals in 1906, then back to the Conservatives in 1924, it’s hard to put Churchill in any neat category. But there are many more inconsistencies rolled up in the one great man.

Churchill, a scion of the great House of Marlborough, waged many battles against his own ruling class, making significant contributions to social reform in areas of unemployment insurance, statutory minimum wage, working conditions of laborers, as well as early measures leading to what is now described as the “welfare state” in Britain. Churchill was among the first officials to advocate state action to lessen the effect of market fluctuations upon Britain’s working class.

At the Board of Trade and Home Office, the concept of a “social net” for the less fortunate began to take shape in Churchill’s mind. In David Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer 1908-15), Churchill found a like-minded politician with whom he formed a strong and successful partnership for social reform. They proposed “Trade Boards” to assist in resolving disputes, with power to set minimum wages and fine errant employers. These ultimately became permanent boards of arbitration, which proved to be very successful.

Churchill and Lloyd George proposed a sweeping series of social reforms particularly enacted to cover what were then known as the “sweated trades”: occupations demanding high levels of output with very low wage rates, usually occupied by a high proportion of women.

By any measure, Churchill’s work to effect social change through legislation was a substantial success. Nevertheless, the transition from Victorian free-market policy to that of the state as an active partner in daily economic life was undertaken in a mere seventeen months, due in great measure to his political skill and advocacy.

It was Churchill’s role in the hallmark Geoist document – the budget of 1909 dubbed “The People’s Budget” – which establishes him (at least for that period of his life) as a Geoist even though its great land value taxation proposals were ultimately defeated. Among the aspects of power in British society revealed by the political struggle over this budget were the personal and political identities of Lloyd George and Churchill — the only two members of the Cabinet totally committed to this revolutionary budget.

When the House of Lords, without modern precedent, rejected the Budget, Lloyd George and Churchill set out to destroy the power of the Lords and of the landed aristocracy which controlled it, and were both instrumental in largely abolishing the power of the House of Lords in 1911.

Interested to know more of Geoism in the eloquent and emphatic style of Churchill? Proz Oz has two booklets, at a nominal price, which are extracts from his parliamentary speeches: “On Human Rights” & “Land Price as a Cause of Poverty”.

“Land, which is a necessity of human existence, which is the original source of all wealth, which is strictly limited in extent, which is fixed geographical position – land, I say, differs from all other forms of property in these primary and fundamental conditions.”

“Nothing is more amusing than to watch the efforts of our monopolist opponents to prove that other forms of property and increment are exactly the same, and are similar in all respects to the unearned increment in land.”

“It does not matter where you look or what examples you select, you will see that every form of enterprise, every step in material progress is undertaken only after the land monopolist has skimmed the cream off for himself and everywhere today, the man who wishes to put land to the highest use is forced to pay a preliminary fine in land values to the man who is putting it to an inferior use, or no use at all. All comes back to the land value.”

“It is quite true that land monopoly is not the only monopoly which exists, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies – it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly.”

Image courtesy of Jerome Historical Society

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