When government, on our behalf, invests in infrastructure, amazing things
happen. Land values rise. If you are in the New York metro area, think of the
Verrazanno Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island, and of
the Tappan Zee Bridge, which connects Westchester and Rockland Counties. In
each case, federal dollars produced huge windfalls for local landholders. If
an infrastructure project is worth doing, it will produce increases in land
values that exceed its cost.
So, knowing that, who should pay for infrastructure, and how should the
cost burden be shared? Does it make sense to pay for such projects through
on income? On sales? On buildings? Or does it make sense to impose a tax
only on the increase in land values that the infrastructure investment creates?
that such a tax is both the most just option and the most logical option,
because it doesn't impose on those who work for a living, and doesn't suppress
creation or demand.
When a new commuter train line is built, shouldn't those whose land value
increases as a consequence be the ones to pay for the cost of the construction?
When a new highway exit increases the value of surrounding land, shouldn't
the owners of the land be the ones to pay, in proportion to their benefit?
It makes a lot more sense that taking a portion of people's wages, be they
at the top or the bottom of the income spectrum, without regard for whether
or not they own landed property or how much value they receive from the infrastructure
as landholders. It makes a lot more sense
than taxing sales, which tends to burden
spectrum disproportionately, especially since many lower income people own
no land at all and thus would both pay their landlords more and then pay again
in sales taxes, and lower income people who do own land generally own land
that is not in the prime locations.
Think about that bridge in Alaska. The cost is something like $250 million.
Based on the assessed value of some property held by some of the family
members of the governor, the land value of that island is something like
$450 million. So it would only take a 50% increase in land values on the
island (and this ignores the increase in land values on the mainland) to
make the bridge a worthwhile investment. So. The question becomes, whose
$250 million should be spent on this, and how should it be collected? The
initial proposal is that it, like other pork projects, should be financed
from income taxes imposed on individuals and corporations and estates all
over the US. The benefit falls to the lucky folk who own property on the
island and on the other end of the bridge, in proportion to the size and
location of their holdings. Please explain to us why others' incomes should
be taxed to pay for this.
In your own town, are income taxes, or sales taxes, or building taxes, being
used to pay for infrastructure investment? Where is the justice, or the logic,
in this? How much better would your community be if those who benefited were
those who paid? How much better use would they put the best land to? How
many jobs would be created?
How many projects on the geographic fringes would not get done, if it was
the beneficiaries who were asked to pay for them? How might we be able to
the premature development of land on the fringes?
Henry George: The Condition of
Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)
God’s laws do not change. Though their applications may alter with
altering conditions, the same principles of right and wrong that hold when
men are few and industry is rude also hold amid teeming populations and complex
industries. In our cities of millions and our states of scores of millions,
in a civilization where the division of labor has gone so far that large
numbers are hardly conscious that they are land-users, it still remains true
that we are all land animals and can live only on land, and that land is
God’s bounty to all, of which no one can be deprived without being
murdered, and for which no one can be compelled to pay another without being
robbed. But even in a state of society where the elaboration of industry
and the increase of permanent improvements have made the need for private
possession of land wide-spread, there is no difficulty in conforming individual
possession with the equal right to land. For as soon as any piece of land
will yield to the possessor a larger return than is had by similar labor
on other land a value attaches to it which is shown when it is sold or rented.
Thus, the value of the land itself, irrespective of the value of any improvements
in or on it, always indicates the precise value of the benefit to which all
are entitled in its use, as distinguished from the value which, as producer
or successor of a producer, belongs to the possessor in individual right.
To combine the advantages of private possession with the justice of common
ownership it is only necessary therefore to take for common uses what value
attaches to land irrespective of any exertion of labor on it. The principle
is the same as in the case referred to, where a human father leaves equally
to his children things not susceptible of specific division or common use.
In that case such things would be sold or rented and the value equally applied.
It is on this common-sense principle that we, who term ourselves single-tax
men, would have the community act.
We do not propose to assert equal rights to land by keeping land common,
letting any one use any part of it at any time. We do not propose the task,
impossible in the present state of society, of dividing land in equal shares;
still less the yet more impossible task of keeping it so divided.
We propose — leaving land in the private possession of individuals,
with full liberty on their part to give, sell or bequeath it — simply
to levy on it for public uses a tax that shall equal the annual value of
the land itself, irrespective of the use made of it or the improvements on
it. And since this would provide amply for the need of public revenues, we
would accompany this tax on land values with the repeal of all taxes now
levied on the products and processes of industry — which taxes, since
they take from the earnings of labor, we hold to be infringements of the
right of property.
This we propose, not as a cunning device of human ingenuity, but as a conforming
of human regulations to the will of God.
God cannot contradict himself nor impose on his creatures laws that clash.
If it be God’s command to men that they should not steal — that
is to say, that they should respect the right of property which each one
has in the fruits of his labor;
And if he be also the Father of all men, who in his common bounty has intended
all to have equal opportunities for sharing;
Then, in any possible stage of civilization, however elaborate, there must
be some way in which the exclusive right to the products of industry may
be reconciled with the equal right to land.
If the Almighty be consistent with himself, it cannot be, as say those socialists
referred to by you, that in order to secure the equal participation of men
in the opportunities of life and labor we must ignore the right of private
property. Nor yet can it be, as you yourself in the Encyclical seem to argue,
that to secure the right of private property we must ignore the equality
of right in the opportunities of life and labor. To say the one thing or
the other is equally to deny the harmony of God’s laws.
But, the private possession of land, subject to the payment to the community
of the value of any special advantage thus given to the individual, satisfies
both laws, securing to all equal participation in the bounty of the Creator
and to each the full ownership of the products of his labor. ...
Nor do we hesitate to say that this way of securing the equal right to the
bounty of the Creator and the exclusive right to the products of labor is
the way intended by God for raising public revenues. For we are not atheists,
who deny God; nor semi-atheists, who deny that he has any concern in politics
It is true as you say — a salutary truth too often forgotten — that “man
is older than the state, and he holds the right of providing for the life
of his body prior to the formation of any state.” Yet, as you too perceive,
it is also true that the state is in the divinely appointed order. For He
who foresaw all things and provided for all things, foresaw and provided
that with the increase of population and the development of industry the
organization of human society into states or governments would become both
expedient and necessary.
No sooner does the state arise than, as we all know, it needs revenues.
This need for revenues is small at first, while population is sparse, industry
rude and the functions of the state few and simple. But with growth of population
and advance of civilization the functions of the state increase and larger
and larger revenues are needed.
Now, He that made the world and placed man in it, He that pre-ordained civilization
as the means whereby man might rise to higher powers and become more and
more conscious of the works of his Creator, must have foreseen this increasing
need for state revenues and have made provision for it. That is to say: The
increasing need for public revenues with social advance, being a natural,
God-ordained need, there must be a right way of raising them — some
way that we can truly say is the way intended by God. It is clear that this
right way of raising public revenues must accord with the moral law.
It must not take from individuals what rightfully belongs to individuals.
It must not give some an advantage over others, as by increasing the prices
of what some have to sell and others must buy.
It must not lead men into temptation, by requiring trivial oaths, by making
it profitable to lie, to swear falsely, to bribe or to take bribes.
It must not confuse the distinctions of right and wrong, and weaken the
sanctions of religion and the state by creating crimes that are not sins,
and punishing men for doing what in itself they have an undoubted right to
It must not repress industry. It must not check commerce. It must not punish
thrift. It must offer no impediment to the largest production and the fairest
division of wealth.
Let me ask your Holiness to consider the taxes on the processes and products
of industry by which through the civilized world public revenues are collected — the
octroi duties that surround Italian cities with barriers; the monstrous customs
duties that hamper intercourse between so-called Christian states; the taxes
on occupations, on earnings, on investments, on the building of houses, on
the cultivation of fields, on industry and thrift in all forms. Can these
be the ways God has intended that governments should raise the means they
need? Have any of them the characteristics indispensable in any plan we can
deem a right one?
All these taxes violate the moral law. They take by force what belongs to
the individual alone; they give to the unscrupulous an advantage over the
scrupulous; they have the effect, nay are largely intended, to increase the
price of what some have to sell and others must buy; they corrupt government;
they make oaths a mockery; they shackle commerce; they fine industry and
thrift; they lessen the wealth that men might enjoy, and enrich some by impoverishing
Yet what most strikingly shows how opposed to Christianity is this system
of raising public revenues is its influence on thought.
Christianity teaches us that all men are brethren; that their true interests
are harmonious, not antagonistic. It gives us, as the golden rule of life,
that we should do to others as we would have others do to us. But out of
the system of taxing the products and processes of labor, and out of its
effects in increasing the price of what some have to sell and others must
buy, has grown the theory of “protection,” which denies this
gospel, which holds Christ ignorant of political economy and proclaims laws
of national well-being utterly at variance with his teaching. This theory
sanctifies national hatreds; it inculcates a universal war of hostile tariffs;
it teaches peoples that their prosperity lies in imposing on the productions
of other peoples restrictions they do not wish imposed on their own; and
instead of the Christian doctrine of man’s brotherhood it makes injury
of foreigners a civic virtue.
“By their fruits ye shall know them.” Can anything more clearly
show that to tax the products and processes of industry is not the way God
intended public revenues to be raised?
But to consider what we propose — the raising of public revenues by
a single tax on the value of land irrespective of improvements — is
to see that in all respects this does conform to the moral law.
Let me ask your Holiness to keep in mind that the value we propose to tax,
the value of land irrespective of improvements, does not come from any exertion
of labor or investment of capital on or in it — the values produced
in this way being values of improvement which we would exempt. The value
of land irrespective of improvement is the value that attaches to land by
reason of increasing population and social progress. This is a value that
always goes to the owner as owner, and never does and never can go to the
user; for if the user be a different person from the owner he must always
pay the owner for it in rent or in purchase-money; while if the user be also
the owner, it is as owner, not as user, that he receives it, and by selling
or renting the land he can, as owner, continue to receive it after he ceases
to be a user.
Thus, taxes on land irrespective of improvement cannot lessen the rewards
of industry, nor add to prices,* nor in any way take from the individual
what belongs to the individual. They can take only the value that attaches
to land by the growth of the community, and which therefore belongs to the
community as a whole.
* As to this point it may be well to add that all economists
are agreed that taxes on land values irrespective of improvement or use — or
what in the terminology of political economy is styled rent, a term distinguished
from the ordinary use of the word rent by being applied solely to payments
for the use of land itself — must be paid by the owner and cannot
be shifted by him on the user. To explain in another way the reason given
in the text: Price is not determined by the will of the seller or the
will of the buyer, but by the equation of demand and supply, and therefore
as to things constantly demanded and constantly produced rests at a point
determined by the cost of production — whatever tends to increase
the cost of bringing fresh quantities of such articles to the consumer
increasing price by checking supply, and whatever tends to reduce such
cost decreasing price by increasing supply. Thus taxes on wheat or tobacco
or cloth add to the price that the consumer must pay, and thus the cheapening
in the cost of producing steel which improved processes have made in
recent years has greatly reduced the price of steel. But land has no
cost of production, since it is created by God, not produced by man.
Its price therefore is fixed —
1 (monopoly rent), where land is held in close monopoly,
by what the owners can extract from the users under penalty of deprivation
and consequently of starvation, and amounts to all that common labor
can earn on it beyond what is necessary to life;
2 (economic rent proper), where there is no special monopoly, by what the
particular land will yield to common labor over and above what may be had
by like expenditure and exertion on land having no special advantage and
for which no rent is paid; and,
3 (speculative rent, which is a species of monopoly rent, telling particularly
in selling price), by the expectation of future increase of value from
social growth and improvement, which expectation causing landowners to
withhold land at present prices has the same effect as combination.
Taxes on land values or economic rent can therefore never
be shifted by the landowner to the land-user, since they in no wise increase
the demand for land or enable landowners to check supply by withholding
land from use. Where rent depends on mere monopolization, a case I mention
because rent may in this way be demanded for the use of land even before
economic or natural rent arises, the taking by taxation of what the landowners
were able to extort from labor could not enable them to extort any more,
since laborers, if not left enough to live on, will die. So, in the case
of economic rent proper, to take from the landowners the premiums they
receive, would in no way increase the superiority of their land and the
demand for it. While, so far as price is affected by speculative rent,
to compel the landowners to pay taxes on the value of land whether they
were getting any income from it or not, would make it more difficult
for them to withhold land from use; and to tax the full value would not
merely destroy the power but the desire to do so.
To take land values for the state, abolishing all taxes on the products
of labor, would therefore leave to the laborer the full produce of labor;
to the individual all that rightfully belongs to the individual. It would
impose no burden on industry, no check on commerce, no punishment on thrift;
it would secure the largest production and the fairest distribution of wealth,
by leaving men free to produce and to exchange as they please, without any
artificial enhancement of prices; and by taking for public purposes a value
that cannot be carried off, that cannot be hidden, that of all values is
most easily ascertained and most certainly and cheaply collected, it would
enormously lessen the number of officials, dispense with oaths, do away with
temptations to bribery and evasion, and abolish man-made crimes in themselves
But, further: That God has intended the state to obtain the revenues it
needs by the taxation of land values is shown by the same order and degree
of evidence that shows that God has intended the milk of the mother for the
nourishment of the babe.
See how close is the analogy. In that primitive condition ere the need for
the state arises there are no land values. The products of labor have value,
but in the sparsity of population no value as yet attaches to land itself.
But as increasing density of population and increasing elaboration of industry
necessitate the organization of the state, with its need for revenues, value
begins to attach to land. As population still increases and industry grows
more elaborate, so the needs for public revenues increase. And at the same
time and from the same causes land values increase. The connection is invariable.
The value of things produced by labor tends to decline with social development,
since the larger scale of production and the improvement of processes tend
steadily to reduce their cost. But the value of land on which population
centers goes up and up. Take Rome or Paris or London or New York or Melbourne.
Consider the enormous value of land in such cities as compared with the value
of land in sparsely settled parts of the same countries. To what is this
due? Is it not due to the density and activity of the populations of those
cities — to the very causes that require great public expenditure for
streets, drains, public buildings, and all the many things needed for the
health, convenience and safety of such great cities? See how with the growth
of such cities the one thing that steadily increases in value is land; how
the opening of roads, the building of railways, the making of any public
improvement, adds to the value of land. Is it not clear that here is a natural
law — that is to say a tendency willed by the Creator? Can it mean
anything else than that He who ordained the state with its needs has in the
values which attach to land provided the means to meet those needs?
That it does mean this and nothing else is confirmed if we look deeper still,
and inquire not merely as to the intent, but as to the purpose of the intent.
If we do so we may see in this natural law by which land values increase
with the growth of society not only such a perfectly adapted provision for
the needs of society as gratifies our intellectual perceptions by showing
us the wisdom of the Creator, but a purpose with regard to the individual
that gratifies our moral perceptions by opening to us a glimpse of his beneficence.
Consider: Here is a natural law by which as society advances the one thing
that increases in value is land — a natural law by virtue of which
all growth of population, all advance of the arts, all general improvements
of whatever kind, add to a fund that both the commands of justice and the
dictates of expediency prompt us to take for the common uses of society.
Now, since increase in the fund available for the common uses of society
is increase in the gain that goes equally to each member of society, is it
not clear that the law by which land values increase with social advance
while the value of the products of labor does not increase, tends with the
advance of civilization to make the share that goes equally to each member
of society more and more important as compared with what goes to him from
his individual earnings, and thus to make the advance of civilization lessen
relatively the differences that in a ruder social state must exist between
the strong and the weak, the fortunate and the unfortunate? Does it not show
the purpose of the Creator to be that the advance of man in civilization
should be an advance not merely to larger powers but to a greater and greater
equality, instead of what we, by our ignoring of his intent, are making it,
an advance toward a more and more monstrous inequality? ... read the whole letter
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)
Let it once be perceived that the value of the service which government
renders to each individual would be justly measured by the single tax, and
neither objection would any longer have weight. We should then no more think
of taxing people in proportion to their wealth or ability to pay, regardless
of the benefits they receive from government than an honest merchant would
think of charging his customers in proportion to their wealth or ability
to pay, regardless of the value of the goods they bought of him." 13
13. Following is an interesting computation of the cost
and loss to the city of Boston of the present mixed system of taxation
as compared with the single tax; The computation was made by James R.
Carret, Esq., the leading conveyancer of Boston:
Valuation of Boston, May 1, 1892
Land... ... . .. ... .. ... .. $399,170,175
Buildings ... ... ... ... ..$281,109,700
Total assessed value of real estate $680,279,875
Assessed value of personal estate $213,695,829
.... .... ... ... ... ... ... ... .... .... ....
... .... ... $893,975,704
Rate of taxation, $12.90 per $1000
Total tax levy, May 1, 1892 $11,805,036
Amount of taxes levied in respect of the different subjects
of taxation and percentages of the same:
Land .... .... .... .... $5,149,295 43.62%
Buildings .... .... .. $3,626,295 30.72%
Personal estate .. $2,756,676 23.35%
Polls ... .... ... .... .... ...272,750 2.31%
But to ascertain the total cost to the people of Boston
of the present system of taxation for the taxable year, beginning May
1, 1892, there should be added to the taxes assessed upon them what it
cost them to pay the owners of the land of Boston for the use of the
land, being the net ground rent, which I estimate at four per cent on
the land value.
Total tax levy, May 1, 1892 ... ... ... ... .... ....
.... .... .... ..... .... .... .... .... .... .... ..$11,805,036
Net ground rent, four percent, on the land value
($399,170,175)..... ... ... ...$15,966,807
Total cost of the present system to the people of
Boston for that year ... $27,771,843
To contrast this with what the single tax system would
have cost the people of Boston for that year, take the gross ground rent,
found by adding to the net ground rent the taxation on land values for
that year, being $12.90 per $1000, or 1.29 per cent added to 4 per cent
= 5.29 per cent.
Total cost of present system as above .. .... .... ....
.... .... .... .... .... ....$27,771,843
Single tax, or gross ground rent, 5.29 per cent
on $399,170,175 ... ..$21,116,102
Excess cost of present system, which is the sum
taxes in respect of buildings, personal property,
and polls .... ...... .. $6,655,741
But the present system not only costs the people more
than the single tax would, but produces less revenue:
Proceeds of single tax ... ... ... ... ..... .... ....
..... .... .... .... ..... ..... .... $21,116,102
Present tax levy ... ... ... ... ... .... .... ....
..... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... ....$11,805,036
Loss to public treasury by present system ... ....
.... .... .... .. ..... ..$9,311,066
This, however, is not a complete contrast between the
present system and the single tax, for large amounts of real estate are
exempt from taxation, being held by the United States, the Commonwealth,
by the city itself, by religious societies and corporations, and by charitable,
literary, and scientific institutions. The total amount of the value
of land so held as returned by the assessors for the year 1892 is $60,626,171.
Reasons can be given why all lands within the city should
be assessed for taxation to secure a just distribution of the public
burdens, which I cannot take the space to enter into here. There is good
reason to believe also that lands in the city of Boston are assessed
to quite an appreciable extent below their fair market value. As an indication
of this see an editorial in the Boston Daily Advertiser for
October 3, 1893, under the title, "Their Own Figures."
The vacant lands, marsh lands, and flats in Boston were
valued by the assessors in 1892 (page 3 of their annual report) at $52,712,600.
I believe that this represents not more than fifty per cent of their
true market value.
Taking this and the undervaluation of improved property
and the exemptions above mentioned into consideration, I think $500,000,000
to be a fair estimate of the land values of Boston. Making this the basis
of contrast, we have:
Proceeds of single tax 5.29 per cent on $500,000,000 ...
.... .... .... $26,450,000
Present tax levy ... .... ... .... .... .... ....
.... ..... .... .... .... .... ..... .... .... ..$11,805,036
Loss to public treasury by present system ... ...
... ... .... .... .... ....$14,644,974
3. THE SINGLE TAX FALLS IN PROPORTION TO BENEFITS
To perceive that the single tax would justly measure the value of government
service we have only to realize that the mass of individuals everywhere and
now, in paying for the land they use, actually pay for government service
in proportion to what they receive. He who would enjoy the benefits of a
government must use land within its jurisdiction. He cannot carry land from
where government is poor to where it is good; neither can he carry it from
where the benefits of good government are few or enjoyed with difficulty
to where they are many and fully enjoyed. He must rent or buy land where
the benefits of government are available, or forego them. And unless he buys
or rents where they are greatest and most available he must forego them in
degree. Consequently, if he would work or live where the benefits of government
are available, and does not already own land there, he will be compelled
to rent or buy at a valuation which, other things being equal, will depend
upon the value of the government service that the site he selects enables
him to enjoy. 14 Thus does he pay for the service of government in proportion
to its value to him. But he does not pay the public which provides the service;
he is required to pay land-owners.
14. Land values are lower in all countries of poor government
than in any country of better government, other things being equal. They
are lower in cities of poor government, other things being equal, than
in cities of better government. Land values are lower, for example, in
Juarez, on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, where government is bad,
than in El Paso, the neighboring city on the American side, where government
is better. They are lower in the same city under bad government than
under improved government. When Seth Low, after a reform campaign, was
elected mayor of Brooklyn, N.Y., rents advanced before he took the oath
of office, upon the bare expectation that he would eradicate municipal
abuses. Let the city authorities anywhere pave a street, put water through
it and sewer it, or do any of these things, and lots in the neighborhood
rise in value. Everywhere that the "good roads" agitation of
wheel men has borne fruit in better highways, the value of adjacent land
has increased. Instances of this effect as results of public improvements
might be collected in abundance. Every man must be able to recall some
within his own experience.
And it is perfectly reasonable that it should be so.
Land and not other property must rise in value with desired improvements
in government, because, while any tendency on the part of other kinds
of property to rise in value is checked by greater production, land can
not be reproduced.
Imagine an utterly lawless place, where life and property
are constantly threatened by desperadoes. He must be either a very bold
man or a very avaricious one who will build a store in such a community
and stock it with goods; but suppose such a man should appear. His store
costs him more than the same building would cost in a civilized community;
mechanics are not plentiful in such a place, and materials are hard to
get. The building is finally erected, however, and stocked. And now what
about this merchant's prices for goods? Competition is weak, because
there are few men who will take the chances he has taken, and he charges
all that his customers will pay. A hundred per cent, five hundred per
cent, perhaps one or two thousand per cent profit rewards him for his
pains and risk. His goods are dear, enormously dear — dear enough
to satisfy the most contemptuous enemy of cheapness; and if any one should
wish to buy his store that would be dear too, for the difficulties in
the way of building continue. But land is cheap! This is the
type of community in which may be found that land, so often mentioned
and so seldom seen, which "the owners actually can't give away,
But suppose that government improves. An efficient administration
of justice rids the place of desperadoes, and life and property are safe.
What about prices then? It would no longer require a bold or desperately
avaricious man to engage in selling goods in that community, and competition
would set in. High profits would soon come down. Goods would be cheap — as
cheap as anywhere in the world, the cost of transportation considered.
Builders and building materials could be had without difficulty, and
stores would be cheap, too. But land would be dear! Improvement
in government increases the value of that, and of that alone.
Now, the economic principle pursuant to which land-owners are thus able
to charge their fellow-citizens for the common benefits of their common government
points to the true method of taxation. With the exception of such other monopoly
property as is analogous to land titles, and which in the purview of the
single tax is included with land for purposes of taxation, 15 land is the
only kind of property that is increased in value by government; and the increase
of value is in proportion, other influences aside, to the public service
which its possession secures to the occupant. Therefore, by taxing land in
proportion to its value, and exempting all other property, kindred monopolies
excepted — that is to say, by adopting the single tax — we should
be levying taxes according to benefits.16
15. Railroad franchises, for example, are not usually
thought of as land titles, but that is what they are. By an act of sovereign
authority they confer rights of control for transportation purposes over
narrow strips of land between terminals and along trading points. The
value of this right of way is a land value.
16. Each occupant would pay to his landlord the value
of the public benefits in the way of highways, schools, courts, police
and fire protection, etc., that his site enabled him to enjoy. The landlord
would pay a tax proportioned to the pecuniary benefits conferred upon
him by the public in raising and maintaining the value of his holding.
And if occupant and owner were the same, he would pay directly according
to the value of his land for all the public benefits he enjoyed, both
intangible and pecuniary.
And in no sense would this be class taxation. Indeed, the cry of class
taxation is a rather impudent one for owners of valuable land to raise against
the single tax, when it is considered that under existing systems of taxation
they are exempt. 17 Even the poorest and the most degraded classes in the
community, besides paying land-owners for such public benefits as come their
way, are compelled by indirect taxation to contribute to the support of government. But
landowners as a class go free. They enjoy the protection of the courts, and
of police and fire departments, and they have the use of schools and the
benefit of highways and other public improvements, all in common with the
most favored, and upon the same specific terms; yet, though they go through
the form of paying taxes, and if their holdings are of considerable value
pose as "the tax-payers" on all important occasions, they,
in effect and considered as a class, pay no taxes, because government, by
increasing the value of their land, enables them to recover back in higher
rents and higher prices more than their taxes amount to. Enjoying the same
tangible benefits of government that others do, many of them as individuals
and all of them as a class receive in addition a tangible pecuniary benefit
which government confers upon no other property-owners. The value of their
property is enhanced in proportion to the benefits of government which its
occupants enjoy. To tax them alone, therefore, is not to discriminate against
them; it is to charge them for what they get.18
17. While the landholders of the City of Washington were
paying something less than two per cent annually in taxes, a Congressional
Committee (Report of the Select Committee to Investigate Tax Assessments
in the District of Columbia, composed of Messrs. Johnson, of Ohio, Chairman,
Wadsworth, of New York, and Washington, of Tennessee. Made to the House
of Representatives, May 24, 1892. Report No. 1469), brought out
the fact that the value of their land had been increasing at a minimum
rate of ten per cent per annum. The Washington land-owners as a class
thus appear to have received back in higher land values, actually and
potentially, about ten dollars for every two dollars that as land-owners
they paid in taxes. If any one supposes that this condition is peculiar
to Washington let him make similar estimates for any progressive locality,
and see if the land-owners there are not favored in like manner.
But the point is not dependent upon increase in the capitalized
value of land. If the land yields or will yield to its owner an income
in the nature of actual or potential ground rent, then to the extent
that this actual or possible income is dependent upon government the
landlord is in effect exempt from taxation. No matter what tax he pays
on account of his ownership of land, the public gives it back to him
to that extent.
18. Take for illustration two towns, one of excellent
government and the other of inefficient government, but in all other
respects alike. Suppose you are hunting for a place of residence and
find a suitable site in the town of good government. For simplicity of
illustration let us suppose that the land there is not sold outright
but is let upon ground rent. You meet the owner of the lot you have selected
and ask him his terms. He replies:
"Two hundred and fifty dollars a year."
"Two hundred and fifty dollars a year!" you
exclaim. "Why, I can get just as good a site in that other town
for a hundred dollars a year."
"Certainly you can," he will say. "But
if you build a house there and it catches fire it will burn down; they
have no fire department. If you go out after dark you will be 'held up'
and robbed; they have no police force. If you ride out in the spring,
your carriage will stick in the mud up to the hubs, and if you walk you
may break your legs and will be lucky if you don t break your neck; they
have no street pavements and their sidewalks are dangerously out of repair.
When the moon doesn't shine the streets are in darkness, for they have
no street lights. The water you need for your house you must get from
a well; there is no water supply there. Now in our town it is different.
We have a splendid fire department, and the best police force in the
world. Our streets are macadamized, and lighted with electricity; our
sidewalks are always in first class repair; we have a water system that
equals that of New York; and in every way the public benefits in this
town are unsurpassed. It is the best governed town in all this region.
Isn't it worth a hundred and fifty dollars a year more for a building
site here than over in that poorly governed town?"
You recognize the advantages and agree to the terms.
But when your house is built and the assessor visits you officially,
what would be the conversation if your sense of the fitness of things
were not warped by familiarity with false systems of taxation? Would
it not be something like what follows?
"How much do you regard this house as worth? " asks
"What is that to you?" you inquire.
"I am the town assessor and am about to appraise
your property for taxation."
"Am I to be taxed by this town? What for?"
"What for?" echoes the assessor in surprise. "What
for? Is not your house protected from fire by our magnificent fire department?
Are not you protected from robbery by the best police force in the world?
Do not you have the use of macadamized pavements, and good sidewalks,
and electric street lights, and a first class water supply? Don't you
suppose these things cost something? And don't you think you ought to
pay your share?"
"Yes," you answer, with more or less
calmness; "I do have the benefit of these things, and I do think
that I ought to pay my share toward supporting them. But I have already
paid my share for this year. I have paid it to the owner of this lot.
He charges me two hundred and fifty dollars a year -- one hundred and
fifty dollars more than I should pay or he could get but for those
very benefits. He has collected my share of this year's expense
of maintaining town improvements; you go and collect from him. If you
do not, but insist upon collecting from me, I shall be paying twice
for these things, once to him and once to you; and he won't be paying
at all, but will be making money out of them, although he derives the
same benefits from them in all other respects that I do." ... read
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures,
with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894) — Appendix: FAQ
Q2. Would the single tax yield revenue sufficient for all kinds of government?
A. Thomas G. Shearman, Esq., of New York, estimates that sixty-five per cent
of the rent that the land in the United States now yields actually and
potentially to its owners, would be sufficient. But whether it would or
not is as yet an unimportant question. If all revenues ought to
be raised from land values, then no revenues should be drawn from other
sources while any land value remains in private possession. Until
land values are exhausted the taxation of labor cannot be excused.
Q3. In an interior or frontier town, where land has but little value, how
would you raise enough money for schools, highways, and other public needs?
A. There is no town whose finances are reasonably managed in which the land
values are insufficient for local needs. Schools, highways, and so forth,
are not local but general, and should be maintained from the land values
of the state at large.
In this particular example, the Canal
was done by a corporation, not a government entity, but the description
Winston Churchill: The
Now let the Manchester Ship Canal tell its tale about the land. It has
a story to tell which is just as simple and just as pregnant as its
story about Free Trade. When it was resolved to build the Canal, the
first thing that had to be done was to buy the land. Before the
resolution to build the Canal was taken, the land on which the Canal
flows -- or perhaps I should say 'stands' -- was, in the main,
agricultural land, paying rates on an assessment from 30s. to L2 an
acre. I am told that 4,495 acres of land purchased fell within that
description out of something under 5,000 purchased altogether.
Immediately after the decision, the 4,495 acres were sold for L777,000
sterling -- or an average of L172 an acre -- that is to say, five or
six times the agricultural value of the land and the value on which it
had been rated for public purposes.
Now what had the landowner done for
the community; what enterprise had he shown; what service had he
rendered; what capital had he risked in order that he should gain this
enormous multiplication of the value of his property! I will tell you
in one word what he had done. Can you guess it! Nothing.
But it was not only the owners of the land that was needed for
the Canal, who were automatically enriched. All the surrounding land
either having a frontage on the Canal or access to it rose and rose
rapidly, and splendidly, in value. By the stroke of a fairy wand,
without toil, without risk, without even a half-hour's thought many
landowners in Salford, Eccles, Stretford, Irlam, Warrington Runcorn,
etc., found themselves in possession of property which had trebled,
quadrupled, quintupled in value.
Apart from the high prices which were paid, there was a heavy
compensation, severance, disturbance, and injurious affection where no
land was taken -- injurious affection, namely, raising the land not
taken many times in value -- all this was added to the dead-weight cost
of construction. All this was a burden on those whose labour skill, and
capital created this great public work. Much of this land today is
still rated at ordinary agricultural value, and in order to make sure
that no injustice is done, in order to make quite certain that these
landowners are not injured by our system of government, half their
rates are, under the Agricultural Rates Act, paid back to them. The
balance is made up by you. The land is still rising in value, and with
every day's work that every man in this neighbourhood does and with
every addition to the prosperity of Manchester and improvement of this
great city, the land is further enhanced in vaIue.
The shareholders and the
ratepayers I have told you what happened to the
landowners. Let us see what
happened to the shareholders and
the ratepayers who found the money. The ordinary shareholders, who
subscribed eight millions, have had no dividend yet. The Corporation
loan of five millions interest on which is borne on the rates each
year, had, until 1907, no return upon its capital. A return has come at
last, and no doubt the future prospects are good; but there was a long
interval -- even for the corporation. These are the men who did the
work. These are the men who put up the money. I want to ask you a
question. Do you think it would be very unfair if the owners of all
this automatically created land value due to the growth of the city, to
the enterprise of the community, and to the sacrifices made by the
shareholders -- do you think it would have been very unfair, if they
had been made to pay a proportion, at any rate, of the unearned
increment which they secured, back to the city and the community? ...
Read the whole piece
Bill Batt: Who Says Cities are Poor? They Just
Don't Know How to Tax Their Wealth!
It's been an axiom of urban policy for the past half century to lament the
plight of American cities — that they have lost their most productive
populations, that their infrastructure is deteriorated and obsolete, that they
contain people most in need, and that their tax base is limited. This essay
argues that none of this needs to be so, and that municipal leaders need only
to think "outside the box" as the hackneyed phrase goes, to find
undreamed of revenue that will not only provide all the support cities
need but enhance the economic vitality of their being by its collection.
As conventionally viewed, cities not only have need for more services but
lack the tax base on which to draw from. The services are greater in cities
than in suburban and rural communities because that's where streets and other
general services are the heaviest, where the schools are the greatest challenge,
where the police and fire departments are most relied upon, where the social
programs face the greatest pathologies, and where general administration is
the most complex and requires the greatest control and coordination. It seems
so obvious that it hardly needs mentioning, and no further discussion is required.
At the same time, so the argument goes, the revenue bases upon which to
levy taxes are most lacking: the middle class and the wealthier populations
largely moved out, and stores have relocated to malls and highway junctions
taking the sales tax base with them. What's left are deteriorating buildings
and a complaining citizenry: the footloose commercial and industrial sector
also threatens to relocate along with a residential population feeling
strangled by growing municipal and school taxes on real property. A few cities
beyond taxation of property and sales to impose one more — an income
tax — on top of the others. And greater reliance upon user fees and
on privatized services shifts the burden increasingly to the poor. ... read the whole article
Rick Rybeck: Using Value Capture to Finance Infrastructure and
Encourage Compact Development, at http://www.edrgroup.com/ted2006/T3_Rybeck_Rick.pdf.
Fred Harrison: Wheels of Fortune: Self-funding Infrastructure
and the Free Market Case for a Land Tax at http://www.iea.org.uk/files/upld-publication307pdf?.pdf.
Bill Batt: The Nexus of
Transportation, Economic Rent, and Land Use
... capital investments affect
the market value of
locational sites by conveying rent to those in any way benefitting from
the service. That rent accruing to proximate sites and can easily
recaptured to pay off the debt service of project construction.
Typically rent collection is ignored, however, left instead in the
hands of titleholders whose sites are serviced by the infrastructure
investment. This drives speculation in land, with all the negative
effects it brings both economically and politically. In fact the rent
created by capital investment in transportation can be enormous.
- One nine-mile
of interstate highway in Albany, New York, costing $125 million to
construct has yielded $3.8 billion in increased land values within just
two miles of its corridor in the 40 years of its existence.(27)
This is a thirty-fold return in a timespan typically used for bond
- The Washington Metro created increments in land value
of the 101-mile system under of construction in 1980 that easily
exceeded $3.5 billion, compared with the $2.7 billion of federal funds
invested in Metro up until that time.(28) No
doubt the return is far greater today.
The component of transportation
costs constituting capital expenditure
can and should be recaptured through the collection of land rent since
it accounts for the creation of that value particular to proximate
locational sites.... read the whole article