Although the Edwardian period may in retrospect appear to have been a golden age, it was in reality a time of much turbulence in the political and social fields. There were long and often violent strikes in the docks and coalmines as well as in other less vital industries. Poverty was endemic, and it was the fear of the creation of a semi-criminal underclass as much as feelings of benevolence that led during this period to the beginnings of the welfare state.
Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, needed to increase taxation to meet the cost of the recently introduced old-age pensions and, in his 1909 budget, he proposed his famously controversial land tax. This was based on Henry George’s philosophy as expounded in his economic bestseller, Progress and Poverty, published in 1879. Gladstone had incorporated his ideas in the Liberal Party’s programme.
The House of Lords, set on defending the interests of its members, rejected the budget, thereby breaking an unwritten constitutional convention preventing it from opposing ‘money bills’. In return the Government sought an assurance from the King to create enough Liberal Peers to outvote the Conservative majority in the Lords. In the end the Peers backed down and the Parliament Act of 1911 established the supremacy of the elected chamber over the Lords.
The land tax, badly drafted and never fully implemented because of the start of the First World War, was abolished in the 1920s. This book concludes by looking at the attempts and failure of subsequent governments to devise acceptable methods of separating the public from the private revenue of land to recoup for the community what the community itself creates, the heart of Henry George’s argument.
Born in Kent, Geoffrey Lee was one of the authors of a major work on world trade and for many years worked on yearbooks for the Financial Times. The author of many short stories and articles in the national press, he became assistant editor of an architectural magazine and then deputy editor of Country Life. In retirement he worked for the Historic Houses Association.
Keywords: Land tax, Revenue of land, Government budget