Wealth and Want
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Revenue not Primary

The revenue that collecting land rent would generate is not the only or even the primary goal of George's reform!  Harry Pollard, head of the Henry George School of Social Sciences in Los Angeles, put it this way: "It is better to collect Rent and throw it in the ocean than not collect it at all." He goes on to say, "This because the economic effects of collecting Rent are incomparably more important than any revenue collected."

It is an axiom of statesmanship, which the successful founders of tyranny have understood and acted upon that great changes can best be brought about under old forms. We, who would free men, should heed the same truth. It is the natural method. When nature would make a higher type, she takes a lower one and develops it. This, also, is the law of social growth. Let us work by it. With the current we may glide fast and far. Against it, it is hard pulling and slow progress.

By making use of this existing machinery, we may, without jar or shock, assert the common right to land by appropriating rent by taxation. We already take some rent in taxation. We have only to make some changes in our modes of taxation to take it all.*

*Rent in the economic sense is not, as those unfamiliar with economic terminology may assume, the whole amount paid for the use of real estate. It is only that part of such amount which is paid for the use of the bare land or site employed, exclusive of the payment for the use of any buildings or other improvements on it. H. G. B.

In form, the ownership of land would remain just as now. No owner of land need be dispossessed, and no restriction need be placed upon the amount of land any one could hold. For, rent being taken by the State in taxes, land, no matter in whose name it stood, or in what parcels it was held, would be really common property, and every member of the community would participate in the advantages of its ownership.

Now, insomuch as the taxation of rent, or land values, must necessarily be increased just as we abolish other taxes, we may put the proposition into practical form by proposing --

to abolish all taxation save that upon land values.

As we have seen, the value of land is at the beginning of society nothing, but as society develops by the increase of population and the advance of the arts, it becomes greater and greater. In every civilized country, even the newest, the value of the land taken as a whole is sufficient to bear the entire expenses of government. In the better developed countries it is much more than sufficient. Hence it will not be enough merely to place all taxes upon the value of land. It will be necessary, where rent exceeds the present governmental revenues, commensurately to increase the amount demanded in taxation, and to continue this increase as society progresses and rent advances. But this is so natural and easy a matter, that it may be considered as involved, or at least understood, in the proposition to put all taxes on the value of land. That is the first step upon which the practical struggle must be made. When the hare is once caught and killed, cooking him will follow as a matter of course. When the common right to land is so far appreciated that all taxes are abolished save those which fall upon rent, there is no danger of much more than is necessary to induce them to collect the public revenues being left to individual landholders.

Wherever the idea of concentrating all taxation upon land values finds lodgment sufficient to induce consideration, it invariably makes way, but there are few of the classes most to be benefited by it, who at first, or even for a long time afterward, see its full significance and power.

  • It is difficult for workingmen to get over the idea that there is a real antagonism between capital and labor.
  • It is difficult for small farmers and homestead owners to get over the idea that to put all taxes on the value of land would be unduly to tax them.
  • It is difficult for both classes to get over the idea that to exempt capital from taxation would be to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer.

These ideas spring from confused thought. But behind ignorance and prejudice there is a powerful interest, which has hitherto dominated literature, education, and opinion. A great wrong always dies hard, and the great wrong which in every civilized country condemns the masses of men to poverty and want, will not die without a bitter struggle. ... read the whole chapter

H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 11 Effect of Remedy Upon the Sharing of Wealth (in the unabridged P&P: Part IX Effects of the Remedy — Chapter 2: Of the Effect Upon Distribution and Thence Upon Production

But great as they thus appear, the advantages of a transference of all public burdens to a tax upon the value of land cannot be fully appreciated until we consider the effect upon the distribution of wealth.

Tracing out the cause of the unequal distribution of wealth which appears in all civilized countries, with a constant tendency to greater and greater inequality as material progress goes on, we have found it in the fact that, as civilization advances, the ownership of land, now in private hands, gives a greater and greater power of appropriating the wealth produced by labor and capital.

Thus, to relieve labor and capital from all taxation, direct and indirect, and to throw the burden upon rent, would be, as far as it went, to counteract this tendency to inequality, and, if it went so far as to take in taxation the whole of rent, the cause of inequality would be totally destroyed. Rent, instead of causing inequality, as now, would then promote equality. Labor and capital would then receive the whole produce, minus that portion taken by the state in the taxation of land values, which, being applied to public purposes, would be equally distributed in public benefits. ... read the whole chapter

Henry George: The Great Debate: Single Tax vs Social Democracy  (1889)

We propose to take that for the benefit of the whole community instead of allowing it to go, as it does now, into the pockets of individuals. Is not that, a change that ought to amount to something? (Hear; hear.) But that mere transference is but a little of the good that will result. What we aim at is not so much the taking of rent for the use of the community as freeing the land for the use of labour.

With taxes on land values, with taxes on economic rent from land, whether it was vacant land or the site of a factory, or pleasure ground or farm, would compel all over this country the “dogs in the manger” to let go their grasp. (Hear, hear and cheers.) It would give opportunities by which labour could employ itself.  ... Read the entire article

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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper