When Henry George was writing and speaking about Land Value Taxation, the
U.S. was in a period when it had no federal income tax (though there had
been one within recent
memory, to pay off the costs of the Civil War), but there were tariffs on
trade, taxes on sales, taxes on buildings, and other taxes which George recognized
as both unjust and destructive
to the economy. George sought the underlying cause of the extremes of
wealth and poverty he saw in his travels, and came to recognize that it was
found in our failure to tax economic rent — land rent — except
He called for the removal of taxes he saw as unjust and destructive, and
with just one tax, on land rent.
Today, with the wide range of things we ask government to do — including
many social welfare functions whose goal is to care for those who are impoverished
by our existing arrangements — the Single Tax might not alone
be sufficient to supply all the revenue needs; we'd have to supplement it
the taxes George regarded as unjust and destructive. But shouldn't
we tax fully, first, what it is just to tax, before we begin taxing activities
that it is both undesirable and unjust to tax?
A reasonable argument could be made that over time, the need for many
of those social welfare programs would be reduced, as the perverse incentives
created by the destructive and unjust taxes we rely on now are replaced by
the logical incentives that collecting land rent would create. So while initially,
we might still need to supplement taxes on land rent with taxes on some other
kinds of income, or on sales, or on buildings, we expect that
will be able to reduce
When you read the various proposals that Americans make to the federal tax
reform panel, consider them relative to the merits of Land Value Taxation
— Henry George's "Single Tax" — even if today
it would not be single, just primary.
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 and legislation.
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
provided that with the increase of population and the development of
industry the organization of human society into states or governments
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
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
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
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
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 innocent.
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
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
decline with social development, since the larger scale of production
and the improvement of processes tend steadily to reduce their cost. But
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
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
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,
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
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
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
I have said enough to show your Holiness the injustice into which you
fall in classing us, who in seeking virtually to abolish private property
land seek more fully to secure the true rights of property, with those
whom you speak of as socialists, who wish to make all property common.
But you also do injustice to the socialists.
There are many, it is true, who feeling bitterly the monstrous wrongs of
the present distribution of wealth are animated only by a blind hatred of
the rich and a fierce desire to destroy existing social adjustments. This
class is indeed only less dangerous than those who proclaim that no social
improvement is needed or is possible. But it is not fair to confound with
them those who, however mistakenly, propose definite schemes of remedy.
The socialists, as I understand them, and as the term has come to apply
to anything like a definite theory and not to be vaguely and improperly used
to include all who desire social improvement, do not, as you imply, seek
the abolition of all private property. Those who do this are properly called
communists. What the socialists seek is the state assumption of capital (in
which they vaguely and erroneously include land), or more properly speaking,
of large capitals, and state management and direction of at least the larger
operations of industry. In this way they hope to abolish interest, which
they regard as a wrong and an evil; to do away with the gains of exchangers,
speculators, contractors and middlemen, which they regard as waste; to do
away with the wage system and secure general cooperation; and to prevent
competition, which they deem the fundamental cause of the impoverishment
of labor. The more moderate of them, without going so far, go in the same
direction, and seek some remedy or palliation of the worst forms of poverty
by government regulation. The essential character of socialism is that it
looks to the extension of the functions of the state for the remedy of social
evils; that it would substitute regulation and direction for competition;
and intelligent control by organized society for the free play of individual
desire and effort.
Though not usually classed as socialists, both the trades-unionists and
the protectionists have the same essential character. ...
Differing from all these are those for whom I would speak. Believing that
the rights of true property are sacred, we would regard forcible communism
as robbery that would bring destruction. But we would not be disposed to
deny that voluntary communism might be the highest possible state of which
men can conceive. Nor do we say that it cannot be possible for mankind to
attain it, since among the early Christians and among the religious orders
of the Catholic Church we have examples of communistic societies on a small
scale. St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Thomas of Aquin and Fra Angelico, the
illustrious orders of the Carmelites and Franciscans, the Jesuits, whose
heroism carried the cross among the most savage tribes of American forests,
the societies that wherever your communion is known have deemed no work of
mercy too dangerous or too repellent — were or are communists. Knowing
these things we cannot take it on ourselves to say that a social condition
may not be possible in which an all-embracing love shall have taken the place
of all other motives. But we see that communism is only possible where there
exists a general and intense religious faith, and we see that such a state
can be reached only through a state of justice. For before a man can be a
saint he must first be an honest man.
With both anarchists and socialists, we, who for want of a better term have
come to call ourselves single-tax men, fundamentally differ. We regard them
as erring in opposite directions — the one in ignoring the social nature
of man, the other in ignoring his individual nature. While we see that man
is primarily an individual, and that nothing but evil has come or can come
from the interference by the state with things that belong to individual
action, we also see that he is a social being, or, as Aristotle called him,
a political animal, and that the state is requisite to social advance, having
an indispensable place in the natural order. Looking on the bodily organism
as the analogue of the social organism, and on the proper functions of the
state as akin to those that in the human organism are discharged by the conscious
intelligence, while the play of individual impulse and interest performs
functions akin to those discharged in the bodily organism by the unconscious
instincts and involuntary motions, the anarchists seem to us like men who
would try to get along without heads and the socialists like men who would
try to rule the wonderfully complex and delicate internal relations of their
frames by conscious will.
The philosophical anarchists of whom I speak are few in number, and of little
practical importance. It is with socialism in its various phases that we
have to do battle.
With the socialists we have some points of agreement, for we recognize fully
the social nature of man and believe that all monopolies should be held and
governed by the state. In these, and in directions where the general health,
knowledge, comfort and convenience might be improved, we, too, would extend
the functions of the state.
But it seems to us the vice of socialism in all its degrees is its want
of radicalism, of going to the root. It takes its theories from those who
have sought to justify the impoverishment of the masses, and its advocates
generally teach the preposterous and degrading doctrine that slavery was
the first condition of labor. It assumes that the tendency of wages to a
minimum is the natural law, and seeks to abolish wages; it assumes that the
natural result of competition is to grind down workers, and seeks to abolish
competition by restrictions, prohibitions and extensions of governing power.
Thus mistaking effects for causes, and childishly blaming the stone for hitting
it, it wastes strength in striving for remedies that when not worse are futile.
Associated though it is in many places with democratic aspiration, yet its
essence is the same delusion to which the children of Israel yielded when
against the protest of their prophet they insisted on a king; the delusion
that has everywhere corrupted democracies and enthroned tyrants — that
power over the people can be used for the benefit of the people; that there
may be devised machinery that through human agencies will secure for the
management of individual affairs more wisdom and more virtue than the people
This superficiality and this tendency may be seen in all the phases of
As for thoroughgoing socialism, which is the more to be honored as having
the courage of its convictions, it would carry these vices to full expression.
Jumping to conclusions without effort to discover causes, it fails to see
that oppression does not come from the nature of capital, but from the
wrong that robs labor of capital by divorcing it from land, and that creates
a fictitious capital that is really capitalized monopoly. It fails to see
that it would be impossible for capital to oppress labor were labor free
to the natural material of production; that the wage system in itself springs
from mutual convenience, being a form of cooperation in which one of the
parties prefers a certain to a contingent result; and that what it calls
the “iron law of wages” is not the natural law of wages, but
only the law of wages in that unnatural condition in which men are made
helpless by being deprived of the materials for life and work. It fails
to see that what it mistakes for the evils of competition are really the
evils of restricted competition — are due to a one-sided competition
to which men are forced when deprived of land. While its methods, the organization
of men into industrial armies, the direction and control of all production
and exchange by governmental or semi-governmental bureaus, would, if carried
to full expression, mean Egyptian despotism.
We differ from the socialists in our diagnosis of the evil and we differ
from them as to remedies. We have no fear of capital, regarding it as the
natural handmaiden of labor; we look on interest in itself as natural and
just; we would set no limit to accumulation, nor impose on the rich any burden
that is not equally placed on the poor; we see no evil in competition, but
deem unrestricted competition to be as necessary to the health of the industrial
and social organism as the free circulation of the blood is to the health
of the bodily organism — to be the agency whereby the fullest cooperation
is to be secured. We would simply take for the community what belongs to
the community, the value that attaches to land by the growth of the community;
leave sacredly to the individual all that belongs to the individual; and,
treating necessary monopolies as functions of the state, abolish all restrictions
and prohibitions save those required for public health, safety, morals and
But the fundamental difference — the difference I ask your Holiness
specially to note, is in this: socialism in all its phases looks on the evils
of our civilization as springing from the inadequacy or inharmony of natural
relations, which must be artificially organized or improved. In its idea
there devolves on the state the necessity of intelligently organizing the
industrial relations of men; the construction, as it were, of a great machine
whose complicated parts shall properly work together under the direction
of human intelligence. This is the reason why socialism tends toward atheism.
Failing to see the order and symmetry of natural law, it fails to recognize
On the other hand, we who call ourselves single-tax men (a name which expresses
merely our practical propositions) see in the social and industrial relations
of men not a machine which requires construction, but an organism which needs
only to be suffered to grow. We see in the natural social and industrial
laws such harmony as we see in the adjustments of the human body, and that
as far transcends the power of man’s intelligence to order and direct
as it is beyond man’s intelligence to order and direct the vital movements
of his frame. We see in these social and industrial laws so close a relation
to the moral law as must spring from the same Authorship, and that proves
the moral law to be the sure guide of man where his intelligence would wander
and go astray. Thus, to us, all that is needed to remedy the evils of our
time is to do justice and give freedom. This is the reason why our beliefs
tend toward, nay are indeed the only beliefs consistent with a firm and reverent
faith in God, and with the recognition of his law as the supreme law which
men must follow if they would secure prosperity and avoid destruction. This
is the reason why to us political economy only serves to show the depth of
wisdom in the simple truths which common people heard gladly from the lips
of Him of whom it was said with wonder, “Is not this the Carpenter
And it is because that in what we propose — the securing to all men
of equal natural opportunities for the exercise of their powers and the removal
of all legal restriction on the legitimate exercise of those powers — we
see the conformation of human law to the moral law, that we hold with confidence
that this is not merely the sufficient remedy for all the evils you so strikingly
portray, but that it is the only possible remedy.
Nor is there any other. The organization of man is such, his relations to
the world in which he is placed are such — that is to say, the immutable
laws of God are such, that it is beyond the power of human ingenuity to devise
any way by which the evils born of the injustice that robs men of their birthright
can be removed otherwise than by doing justice, by opening to all the bounty
that God has provided for all. ... read the whole letter
Henry George: The Wages of
We propose leaving land in the
private possession of
individuals – with full liberty on their part to transfer or bequeath
it – simply to take for public uses 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 Revenue, we
would accompany this collection of 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! ... read
the whole article
Henry George: The
Land for the People (1889 speech)
Now, rent is a natural and just
thing. For instance, if we in this
room were to go together to a new country and we were to agree that
we should settle in that new country on equal terms, how could we
divide the land up in such a way as to insure and to continue
equality? If it were proposed that we should divide it up into equal
pieces, there would be in the first place this objection, that in our
division we would not fully know the character of the land; one man
would get a more valuable piece than the other. Then as time passed
the value of different pieces of land would change, and further than
that if we were once to make a division and then allow full and
absolute ownership of the land, inequality would come up in the
succeeding generation. One man would be thriftless, another man, on
the contrary, would be extremely keen in saving and pushing; one man
would be unfortunate and another man more fortunate; and so on. In a
little while many of these people would have parted with their land
to others, so that their children coming after them into the world
would have no land. The only fair way would be this — that any man
among us should be at liberty to take up any piece of land, and use
it, that no one else wanted to use; that where more than one man
wanted to use the same piece of land, the man who did use it should
pay a premium which, going into a common fund and being used for the
benefit of all, would put everybody upon a plane of equality. That
would be the ideal way of dividing up the land of a new country.
THE problem is how to apply that to an old country. True we are
confronted with this fact all over the civilized world that a certain
class have got possession of the land, and want to hold it. Now one
of your distinguished leaders, Mr. Parnell in his Drogheda speech
some years ago, said there were only two ways of getting the land for
the people. One way was to buy it; the other was to fight for it. I
do not think that is true. I think that Mr. Parnell overlooked at
that time a most important third way, and that is the way we
That is what we propose by what
we call the single tax. We
propose to abolish all taxes for revenue. In place of all the taxes
that are now levied, to impose one single tax, and that a tax upon
the value of land. Mark me, upon the value of land alone — not
upon the value of improvements, not upon the value of what the
exercise of labor has done to make land valuable, that belongs to the
individual; but upon the value of the land itself, irrespective of
the improvements, so that an acre of land that has not been improved
will pay as much tax as an acre of like land that has been improved.
So that in a town a house site on which there is no building shall be
called upon to pay just as much tax as a house site on which there is
a house. Read the whole speech
Henry George: The Great
Debate: Single Tax vs Social Democracy (1889)
Now if that were done, if the
land were let out, those using it
paying its premium value to the community, it would amount to
precisely the same thing if, instead of calling the payment rent, we
called it taxes. “A rose by any other name would smell as
sweet.” In an old country, however, there is a very great
advantage in calling the rent a tax. In an old country there is a
very great advantage in moving on that line. People are used to the
payment of taxes. They are not used to the formal ownership of land
by the community; and to the letting of it out in that way.
Therefore, as society is now constituted, and in our communities as
they now exist, we propose to move towards our ideal along the line
of taxation. (Hear, hear.)
If we were to take the rent of
land for the community, one of the
first and best uses which would be commended to us would be that of
abolishing of taxes that bear in any way upon production, or in any
way hamper industry, or in any way increase the price of those things
that people wish to use and can use without injury to others.
Therefore, as bringing in the idea of abolishing these taxes we call
our measure the Single Tax. (Hear, hear.)
We would abolish all taxation that
falls on industry, and raise
public revenue by this means, and move to our end, the taking of the
full rental value of land for the use of the community, in this way.
This name, Single Tax, expresses our method; not our ideal. What we
are really is liberty men; what we believe in is perfect freedom:
What we wish to do is to give each individual in the community the
liberty to exert his powers in any way he pleases, bounded only by
the equal liberty of others. (Applause.)
We would abolish all
and begin with the most important of
all monopolies, the fruitful parent of lesser monopolies, that
monopoly which disinherits men of their birthright; that monopoly
which puts m the hands of some that, element absolutely indispensable
to the use of all; and we believe not that labour is a poor weak
thing that must be coddled or protected by Government. We believe
that labour is the producer of all wealth – (applause) –
that all labour wants is a fair field and no favour, and, therefore,
as against the doctrines of restriction we raise the banner of
liberty and equal right in the gospel of free, fair play. (Loud
cheers.) ...Read the entire article
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a
themed collection of
excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
AND will not the community gain by thus refusing to kill the goose that
lays the golden eggs; by thus refraining from muzzling the ox that treadeth
out the corn; by thus leaving to industry, and thrift, and skill, their natural
reward, full and unimpaired? For there is to the community also a natural
reward. The law of society is, each for all, as well as all for each. No
one can keep to himself the good he may do, any more than he can keep the
bad. Every productive enterprise, besides its return to those who undertake
it, yields collateral advantages to others. If a man plant a fruit tree,
his gain is that he gathers the fruit in its time and season. But in addition
to his gain, there is a gain to the whole community. Others than the owner
are benefited by the increased supply of fruit; the birds which it shelters
fly far and wide; the rain which it helps to attract falls not alone on his
field; and, even to the eye which rests upon it from a distance, it brings
a sense of beauty. And so with everything else. The building of a house,
a factory, a ship, or a railroad, benefits others besides those who get the
direct profits. Nature laughs at a miser. He is like the squirrel who buries
his nuts and refrains from digging them up again. Lo! they sprout and grow
into trees. In fine linen, steeped in costly spices, the mummy is laid away.
Thousands and thousands of years thereafter, the Bedouin cooks his food by
a fire of its encasings, it generates the steam by which the traveler is
whirled on his way, or it passes into far-off lands to gratify the curiosity
of another race. The bee fills the hollow tree with honey, and along comes
the bear or the man. — Progress & Poverty — Book
IX, Chapter 1, Effects of the Remedy: Of the Effect upon the Production of
CONSIDER the effect of such a change upon the labor market. Competition
would no longer be one-sided, as now. Instead of laborers competing with
each other for employment, and in their competition cutting down wages to
the point of bare subsistence, employers would everywhere be competing for
laborers, and wages would rise to the fair earnings of labor. For into the
labor market would have entered the greatest of all competitors for the employment
of labor, a competitor whose demand cannot be satisfied until want is satisfied — the
demand of labor itself. The employers of labor would not have merely to bid
against other employers, all feeling the stimulus of greater trade and increased
profits, but against the ability of laborers to become their own employers
upon the natural opportunities freely opened to them by the tax which prevented
monopolization. — Progress & Poverty — Book
IX, Chapter 1, Effects of the Remedy: Of the Effect upon the Production of
... go to "Gems from George"
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)
I. THE SINGLE TAX DEFINED
The practical form in which Henry George puts the idea of appropriating
economic rent to common use is "To abolish all taxation save that upon
This is now generally known as "The Single Tax."2 Under its operation
all classes of workers, whether manufacturers, merchants, bankers, professional
men, clerks, mechanics, farmers, farm-hands, or other working classes, would,
as such, be wholly exempt. It is only as men own land that they would be
taxed, the tax of each being in proportion, not to the area, but to value
of his land. And no one would be compelled to pay a higher tax than others
if his land were improved or used while theirs was not, nor if his were better
improved or better used than theirs.3 The value of its improvements would
not be considered in estimating the value of a holding; site value alone
would govern.4 If a site rose in the market the tax would proportionately
increase; if that fell, the tax would proportionately diminish.
2. In "Progress and Poverty," book viii, ch. iv, Henry George
speaks of "the effect of substituting for the manifold taxes now imposed,
a single tax on the value of land"; but the term did not become
a distinctive name until 1888.
The first general movement along the lines of "Progress and Poverty" began
New York City election of 1886, when Henry George polled 68,110 votes as
an independent candidate for mayor, and was defeated by the Democratic candidate,
Abram S. Hewitt, by a plurality of only 22,442, the Republican, Theodore
Roosevelt, polling but 60,435. Following that election the United Labor Party
was formed, the Syracuse Convention in August, 1887, by the exclusion of
the Socialists, came to present the central idea of "Progress and Poverty" as
distinguished from the Socialistic propaganda which until then was identified
with it. Coincident with the organization of the United Labor Party the Anti-Poverty
Society was formed; and the two bodies, one representing the political and
the other the religious phase of the idea, worked together until President
Cleveland's tariff message of 1887 appeared. In this message Mr. George saw
the timid beginnings of that open struggle between protection and free trade
to which he had for years looked forward as the political movement that must
culminate in the abolition of all taxes save those upon land values, and
he responded at once to the sentiments of the message. But many protectionists,
who had followed him because they supposed he was a land nationalizer, now
broke away from his leadership, and the United Labor Party and the Anti-Poverty
Society were soon practically dissolved. Those who understood Mr. George's
real position regarding the land question readily acquiesced in his views
as to political policy. and a considerable movement resulted, which, however,
for some time lacked an identifying name. This was the situation when Thomas
G. Shearman, Esq., wrote for the Standard an article on taxation in which
he illustrated and advocated the land value tax as a fiscal measure. The
article had been submitted without a caption, and Mr. George, then the editor
of the Standard, entitled it "The Single Tax." This title was at
once adopted by the "George men," as they were often called,
and has ever since served as the name of the movement it describes.
Though "the single tax" is the English form of "l'impot unique" the
name of the French physiocratic doctrine of the eighteenth century, the
names have no historical connection, and they stand for different ideas.
3. When it is remembered that some land in cities is worth millions of dollars
an acre, that a small building lot in the business center of even a small
village is worth more than a whole field of the best farming land in the
neighborhood, that a few acres of coal or iron land are worth more than great
groups of farms, that the right of way of a railroad company through a thickly
settled district or between important points is worth more than its rolling
stock, and that the value of workingmen's cottages in the suburbs is trifling
in comparison with the value of city residence sites, the absurdity, if not
the dishonesty, of the plea that the single tax would discriminate against
farmers and small home owners and in favor of the rich is apparent. The bad
faith of this plea is emphasized when we consider that under existing systems
of taxation the farmer and the poor home owner are compelled to pay in taxes
upon improvements, food, clothing, and other objects of consumption, much
more than the full annual value of their bare land.
4. The difference between site value and improvement value
is much more definite than it is often supposed to be. Even in what would
first to be most confusing cases, it is easily distinguished. If in any
we imagine the complete destruction of all the improvements, we may discover
in the remaining value of the property — in the price it would after
such destruction fetch in the real estate market — the value of
the site as distinguished from the value of the improvements. This residuum
value would be the basis of computation for levying the single tax.
The distinction is frequently made in business life. Whenever in the course
of ordinary business affairs it becomes necessary to estimate the value of
a building lot, or to fix royalties for mining privileges, no difficulty
is experienced, and substantial justice is done. And though the exigencies
of business seldom require the site value of an improved farm to be distinguished
from the value of its improvements, yet it could doubtless be done as easily
and justly as with city or mining property. Unimproved land attached to any
farm in question, or unimproved land in the neighborhood, if similar in fertility
and location, would furnish a sufficiently accurate measure. If neither existed,
the value of the contiguous highway would always be available.
It should not be forgotten that land for which the demand is so weak that
its site value cannot be easily distinguished from the value of its improvements,
is certain to be land of but little value, and almost certain to have no
value at all.
The objection that the value of land cannot be distinguished from the value
of its improvements is among the most frivolous of the objections that have
been raised to the single tax by people with whom the wish that it may be
impracticable is father to the thought that it really is so.
The single tax may be concisely described as a tax upon land alone, in the
ratio of value, irrespective of improvements or use. ...
Whoever calmly reflects and candidly decides upon the merits of indirect
taxation must reject it in all its forms. But to do that is to make a great
stride toward accepting the single tax. For the single tax is a form of direct
taxation; it cannot be shifted.11 ...
Direct taxes fall into two general classes: (1) Taxes that are levied upon
men in proportion to their ability to pay, and (2) taxes that are levied
in proportion to the benefits received by the tax-payer from the public.
Income taxes are the principal ones of the first class, though probate and
inheritance taxes would rank high. The single tax is the only important one
of the second class.
There should be no difficulty in choosing between the two. To tax in proportion
to ability to pay, regardless of benefits received, is in accord with no
principle of just government; it is a device of piracy. The single tax, therefore,
as the only important tax in proportion to benefits, is the ideal tax.
But here we encounter two plausible objections. One arises from the mistaken
but common notion that men are not taxed in proportion to benefits unless
they pay taxes upon every kind of property they own that comes under the
protection of government; the other is founded in the assumption that it
is impossible to measure the value of the public benefits that each individual
enjoys. Though the first of these objections ostensibly accepts the doctrine
of taxation according to benefits,12 yet, as it leads to attempts at taxation
in proportion to wealth, it, like the other, is really a plea for the piratical
doctrine of taxation according to ability to pay. The two objections stand
or fall together.
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)..... ... ...
Total cost of the present system to the people of Boston for that year ...
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 of
taxes in respect of buildings, personal property, and polls .... ...... ..
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 ... .... .... .... .... .. .....
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
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 ... .... .... ....
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." ...
III. THE SINGLE TAX AS A SOCIAL REFORM.
But the single tax is more than a revenue system. Great as are its merits
in this respect, they are but incidental to its character as a social reform.31
And that some social reform, which shall be simple in method but fundamental
in character, is most urgently needed we have only to look about us to see.
Poverty is widespread and pitiable. This we know. Its general manifestations
are so common that even good men look upon it as a providential provision
for enabling the rich to drive camels through needles' eyes by exercising
the modern virtue of organized giving.32 Its occasional manifestations in
recurring periods of "hard times"33 are like epidemics of a virulent
disease, which excite even the most contented to ask if they may not be the
next victims. Its spasms of violence threaten society with anarchy on the
one hand, and, through panic-stricken efforts at restraint, with loss of
liberty on the other. And it persists and deepens despite the continuous
increase of wealth producing power.34
That much of our poverty is involuntary may be proved, if proof be necessary,
by the magnitude of charitable work that aims to help only the "deserving
poor"; and as to undeserving cases — the cases of voluntary poverty — who
can say but that they, if not due to birth and training in the environs of
degraded poverty, 35 are the despairing culminations of long-continued struggles
for respectable independence? 36 How can we know that they are not essentially
like the rest — involuntary and deserving? It is a profound distinction
that a clever writer of fiction 37 makes when he speaks of "the hopeful
and the hopeless poor." There is, indeed, little difference between
voluntary and involuntary poverty, between the "deserving" and
the "undeserving" poor, except that the "deserving" still
have hope, while from the "undeserving" all hope, if they ever
knew any, has gone.
But it is not alone to objects of charity that the question of poverty calls
our attention. There is a keener poverty, which pinches and goes hungry,
but is beyond the reach of charity because it never complains. And back of
all and over all is fear of poverty, which chills the best instincts of men
of every social grade, from recipients of out-door relief who dread the poorhouse,
to millionaires who dread the possibility of poverty for their children if
not for themselves.38
It is poverty and fear of poverty that prompt men of honest instincts to
steal, to bribe, to take bribes, to oppress, either under color of law or
against law, and — what is worst than all, because it is not merely
a depraved act, but a course of conduct that implies a state of depravity — to
enlist their talents in crusades against their convictions. 39 Our civilization
cannot long resist such enemies as poverty and fear of poverty breed; to
intelligent observers it already seems to yield. 40
But how is the development of these social enemies to be arrested? Only
by tracing poverty to its cause, and, having found the cause, deliberately
removing it. Poverty cannot be traced to its cause, however, without serious
thought; not mere reading and school study and other tutoring, but thought.
41 To jump at a conclusion is very likely to jump over the cause, at which
no class is more apt than the tutored class.42 We must proceed step by step
from familiar and indisputable premises.... read the book
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894) — Appendix:
Q1. Do you regard the single tax as a panacea for all social disease?
A. When William Lloyd Garrison announced his conversion to the single tax
in a letter to Henry George, he took pains to state that he did not believe
it to be a panacea, and Mr. George replied : "Neither do I; but I
believe that freedom is." Your question may be answered in the same
way. Freedom is the panacea for social wrongs and the ills they breed,
and the single tax principle is the tap-root of freedom.
Q53. Is it true that men are equally entitled to land? Are they not
entitled to it in proportion to their use of it?
A. Yes, they are entitled to it in proportion to their use of it and it is this
title that the single tax would secure. It would allow every one to possess as
much land as he wished, upon the sole condition that if it has a value he shall
account to the community for that value and for nothing else; all that he produces
from the land above its value being absolutely his, free even from taxation.
The single tax is the method best adapted to our circumstances, and to orderly
conditions, for limiting possession of land to its use. By making it unprofitable
to hold land except for use, or to hold more than can be used to advantage, it
constitutes every man his own judge of the amount and the character of the land
that he can use. ... read
Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism
of Natural Taxation, from Principles of
Natural Taxation (1917)
Some years ago when President of the Massachusetts Single Tax League I started
a correspondence and series of conferences with a large number of students
of political economy including more than 100 professors in the leading colleges
and universities of the country. The purpose was to ascertain whether it
might be possible to secure agreement of recognized authorities concerning
the fundamental economic principles on which the science of taxation must
rest. The project met with such cordial approval at the hands of the economists,
and proved so interesting and profitable that it finally resulted in a round-table
conference at the Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association held
at Madison, Wisconsin, in December 1907.1 The final canvass of opinions showed
an overwhelmingly majority agreed upon three propositions stated in the following
Catechism, No. 39.2
1. See Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Meeting
of the American Economic Association, 1907, pp. 117-29; also The
A B C of Taxation, pp.187-90.
2. Quoted from an introduction to the edition of the Catechism which was
published in the National Magazine for November, 1912.
Q38. What are the three legs of the tripos, the threefold support upon which
the single tax rests?
A. They are:
(1) The social origin of ground rent -- that the site value of land is
a creation of the community, a public or social value.
(2) The non-shiftability of a land tax -- that no tax, new or old, on
the site value of land can be recovered from the tenant or user by raising
(3) The ultimate burdenlessness of a land tax -- that the selling value
of land, reduced as it is by the capitalized tax that is imposed upon it,
is an untaxed value. Whatever lowers the income from land lowers proportionately
its selling price, so that whether the established tax upon it has been
light or heavy, it is no burden upon the new purchaser, who buys it at
its net value and thus escapes all part in the tax burden which he should
in justice share with those who now bear it all.
Q41. Why would the single tax be an improvement upon present systems of
A. Because: (1) The taking for public uses of that value which justly belongs
to the public is not a tax; (2) it would relieve all workers and capitalists
of those taxes by which they are now unjustly burdened, and (3) it would
make unprofitable the holding of land idle. ... read
the whole article
Upton Sinclair: The Consequences of Land
Speculation are Tenantry and Debt on the Farms, and Slums and Luxury in the
... This condition wrecked every empire in the history of mankind, and it
is wrecking modern civilization. One of the first to perceive this was Henry
George, and he worked out the program known as the Single Tax. Let society
as a whole take the full rental value of land, so that no one would any longer
be able to hold land out of use. So the value of land would decrease, and everyone
could have land, and the community would have a great income to be spent for
social ends. ... read the whole article
Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)
The proverb "There is nothing sure but Death and Taxes," is at
once a recognition of the tendency to change in all human affairs, and a
assertion of Conservatism that there remain at least two immutable things.
But the tooth of time which respects no mortal institution is boldly at
work on even this proverb and threatens to remove Taxes from the meagre list
things permanent. It is the purpose of this booklet to give some account
of this startling phenomenon. With this in view let us lay down and briefly
the proposition that —
Taxation as a means of meeting the proper expenses of government is oppressive,
unjust, inexpedient and unnecessary.
This proposition will strike a good many readers as absurd, but all must at
least recognize the timeliness of the topic and the importance of any contribution
to the discussion of a subject which is agitating the whole civilized world,
for the methods, subjects and amounts of taxation are among the pressing problems
of every country.
The most obvious question which arises in the mind of anyone who reads for
the first time the proposition above laid down is this:
"If taxation is unnecessary, what is to take its place? Government and
its functions are increasingly expensive. They require a lot of money. Where
is it to come from?" The answer may be placed in the form of a second
Every community, whatever its political name and extent — village, city,
state or province or nation — has its own normal, unfailing income,
growing with the growth of the community and always adequate to meet necessary
To explain: Every community has an indefeasible original right to the land
on which it exists, and to all the natural, unmodified properties and advantages
of that particular area of the earth's surface. To this land in its natural
state, undrained, unfenced, unfertilized, unplanted and unoccupied, including
its waters, its contents and its location, every individual in the community
(which may consist of any political unit selected) has an equal right, while
all the individuals together have a joint right to the value for use which
society has conferred upon these natural advantages.
This value for use is known as "Land Value," or by the not particularly
descriptive but generally adopted name of "Economic Rent." ...
To illustrate simply, let us suppose a state which has never parted with its
natural income but is supported by its own economic rent. A farmer wishes to
take up a tract or [sic] government land in this state and offers an economic
rent of fifty cents per year per acre in its raw condition. ...
This principle of economic rent applies to all the users of land, including
mining, use of waterpower, and rights of way over or under its surface. Had
this principle always been recognized, and the economic rent always been retained
by the community, taxation would never have been heard of. When the economic
rent is reclaimed by the community, the need of taxation will disappear.
Let us roughly restate the proposition: All members of the community having
a joint right to the income which the social advantages of the land will command,
they are all partners in this income.
Therefore, when one of their number wishes to take for his private use a parcel
of this land, he should buy out his partners, i.e., the rest of the community,
by paying regularly into the common treasury the economic rent of that parcel,
instead of paying, as at present, the purchase price, i.e., the right to collect
the economic rent, in a lump, to some other individual who has no more original
right to it than himself. ...
Lapse of time, however, never can transform wrong into right, nor can a buyer
acquire any better title than the seller possessed. The economic rent belongs
to the community, which can and will begin to reclaim it as soon as the voters
thoroughly awake to the facts and the right and wrong of the matter, which
are not hard to grasp when the subject is presented in its simplest form.
An illustration has already been given of the case of a piece of farm land.
Let us take an example in a large city. Let us take a corner lot centrally
located in New York City, the title to which lot is held by, say, Mr. John
William Rhinelastor. This lot was a part of an old Dutch farm, and is an heirloom.
It did not cost the present owner anything, nor his father nor his grandfather.
There is a little old building on it, which has always been rented at a figure
ten times as large as the taxes imposed, so that the owner has been handsomely
subsidized each year for storing his title-deeds during a period of the city's
growth in which the increase in population and the expenditure of public money
in that neighborhood have raised the value of this corner location to, say,
two hundred times its early value. ...
Reclaim for the community its natural income, making it expensive either to
keep needed land vacant or to withhold it from the ready and willing to improve
it to the full extent of its possibilities.
Does it require severe intellectual effort to foresee the results? Better
and better houses, apartments, tenements, offices and stores, more employment
for labor in all enterprises now held back by the shadow of the tax-gatherer,
an end of all tax-lying, tax-evasion and tax-injustice, and withal, a public
revenue adequate to all real public needs.
What a contrast to the existing plan of pouring public money into the laps
of individual landowners to their own moral disadvantage and that of their
children, as well as the economic disadvantage of their neighbors, while constantly
cudgeling the civic brains, straining the public credit, impoverishing widows
and orphans, and increasing the exactions from every citizen and corporation
that can be caught, in the effort to raise more and more money to bestow upon
the same beneficiaries. ...
Henry George gave the first impulse, and his followers of the Single Tax have
continued the good work. There is one objection, however, to the statement
of their case by the Single Taxers: the nature of this objection is indicated
by their name. Most persons will infer that, under their proposal, whatever
portion of the economic rent is taken by the community is taken as a tax on
This seems to the present writer to show a misconception of the nature of
the transaction, and one which tends to retard the cause which is being advocated.
The amount of economic rent which is taken by the community for public purposes
is not a tax paid by the land-holder, but whatever amount of such rent is left
in his hands is a gift to him by the community, or else is the compensation
which the community allows him for acting as its agent and collector in the
matter of economic rent.
This is an important distinction which is necessary to make the facts and
the relations clear. It is also highly expedient. Taxation and the idea
behind it are abhorrent to men. As a result of long experience the very word
connotes to them injustice, oppression, and antagonism between the individual
and the community. To the mass "The Single Tax" means simply
rolling into one the manifold injustices and oppressions of the present
Only slow headway can be made by a proposition which at first sight seems
to promise merely to shift the burden from one shoulder to the other.
But make it plain to the wayfaring man that taxation can be abolished and
will be abolished whenever the voters of any political unit so decree,
and a force of hope and purpose will be liberated which must bring nearer
when the things that are the community's will be rendered to it, and the
things which are the individual's will be left in his unmolested possession.
of our friends the Georgeites is "A Single Tax." The true slogan
is "Not a Single Tax!"; and the triumph of the cause behind that
slogan would cut more of the taproots of poverty, vice and social unrest
than any other progressive step which is a legislative possibility. read
the whole article
Alanna Hartzok: In the
History of Thought: Henry George's "Single Tax"
while riding horseback in the Oakland
hills, merchant seaman and journalist Henry George had a startling epiphany. He realized that
speculation and private profiteering in the gifts of nature were the
root causes of the unjust distribution of wealth. The insights
presented in Progress and Poverty,
George's masterwork, launched him to fame. His policy
approach was known at that time as the "single tax" - meaning that
taxation should be shifted off of labor and onto the socially created
surplus value of land and other natural resources. His message
reached as far as the great Russian Leo Tolstoy, who was so taken with
the idea that he frequently referred to George and "Georgism" in his
novel Resurrection.... Read the
Lindy Davies: Land and Justice (a
speech delivered at Chattauqua, August 2005)
I'm here today as a "Single Taxer". If you don't recall quite what
that is, let me first say that it’s NOT Steve Forbes’s “flat
tax!” No. The Single Tax is actually a comprehensive program for economic
justice and environmental sustainability. It was stated most memorably by the
American economist Henry George in his 1879 book Progress and Poverty — and
affirmed by a great many important thinkers, before and since. The idea is
for society to collect the rental value of land for public revenue — and
to abolish all other taxes on the production and exchange of wealth. It came
to be known at the “Single Tax” because of this proposal that
the rent of land should be the sole source of public revenue. ...
Eventually, I believe that human society will adopt the biblical and georgist
wisdom, and organize itself as it must, to achieve justice, efficiency and
Eventually we will have tried everything else. That's how Clarence Darrow — one
of the reform's many prominent supporters — saw things. He said this: “The “single
tax” is so simple, so fundamental, and so easy to carry into effect
that I have no doubt that it will be about the last reform the world will
People in this world are not often logical.”
True enough. Yet I have to believe that eventually the obvious truth will
start to dawn on us. read the whole
Clarence Darrow: How to Abolish
Unfair Taxation (1913)
The single tax theory is that the public should take all the value of land,
as it was made by the public. Land value goes up because of population, and
not because of the owner of the title deed, and the value should be taken by
the community, and thus create a natural fund from which to make improvements
for the comfort of all, and thus make life easier. It would abolish poverty,
that crime of the century, which has always come with civilization; inequality
of wealth, which comes as the world grows older, and which we have never been
able to cure, because man wants to hold what he cannot use, and pass on to
future generations what they will not use.
The "single tax" is so simple, so fundamental, and so easy to
carry into effect that I have no doubt it will be about the last reform
will ever get. People in this world are not often logical; in fact, there
is never any considerable number of them that are logical. I am pretty
people will never get started in the right direction; they will go a long
way around. ... read the whole speech
Frank Stilwell and Kirrily Jordan: The
Political Economy of Land: Putting Henry George in His Place
One might expect such arguments to have led to the advocacy of land nationalisation.
But George thought this unnecessary because a tax on land could be effective
in capturing the economic surplus arising from land ownership. This tax
would generate all the revenue necessary to fund public expenditures. George
thought that such a land tax would permit the removal of other taxes on
labour and capital, which he regarded as inherently inefficient. He argued
that taxes on incomes, sales, and payrolls, for example, acted as disincentives
to production and active endeavour, thereby stifling economic growth and
creating a barrier to full employment. A land tax, by contrast, would be
both economically efficient and more equitable in its distributional effects.
George’s advocacy of replacing all existing taxes with a single tax
on land values was powerful. He argued that this tax would redistribute the
wealth that would otherwise accrue to private landowners, forcing them to
repay the community for their exclusive use of a public resource. Moreover,
such redistribution would reduce wealth inequalities and allow massive improvements
in welfare provisions and public services. In addition, removing taxes on
labour and capital would boost economic growth and provide a stimulus to
employment. Conversely, taxing land values would reduce speculation in land
and depress land prices, allowing greater access to landownership while reducing
economic instability. ... read the whole article
Bill Batt: The
Compatibility of Georgist Economics and Ecological Economics
As with all nineteenth century
moral philosophers, Henry George
subscribed to a belief in natural law. The natural order of things as
he saw it required that land be held in usufruct and that rent from
such should be returned to society. The theory was inspired by his
deeply religious roots and grounded in his reading of the prominent
thinkers that predated him. The natural order was also a moral order,
and the failure to comply with the order of nature and society as he
saw it was a perversion of justice. The fruits of the land belonged to
everyone, just as the fruits of one’s own labor were uniquely one’s
own. Since one owned one’s body, one was entitled to keep the product
of one’s physical efforts. Society had no more right to confiscate the
earnings of one’s sweat and brow than it ought to leave in the hands of
rich landowners the rent that was everyone’s inherent birthright to be
shared. There were just and unjust
taxes, and the only just tax was that which grew out of rent, of the
unearned increment that visited certain land sites as windfall gains
because of the efforts and investments by the community. Income and
excise taxes were unjust and confiscatory— even theft, as especially
were tariffs. Taxing or collecting
land rent alone was the means of
ending poverty and restoring progress. Indeed many Georgists
of the word tax entirely, preferring instead to talk instead about rent
collection. There is even a lapel button Georgists use that says
“Abolish all taxes; collect ground rent instead.” ...
As noted earlier, the starting point of Georgist philosophy is
nature belongs to owners only in usufruct and not in freehold. Because
any monetary wealth that accrued to that nature stemmed directly from
the physical presence of people and was therefore social in character,
the resulting added increment of value that constituted rent belonged
in turn to the community that created it. Nature would have no economic
price without people. Hence rent was the community’s entitlement and
not that of individuals, and the land rent that accrued to parcels as a
result of social investment should be returned to — recaptured by — the
community. It was obvious to George
that the wealthiest people in the nation usually owed their fortune not
to the sweat of their brow or the inventiveness of their minds. Rather
their position was due to their success as land speculators, to an
increase in rent on land they had captured title to, land rightfully
belonging to all. The earth and all its product, he argued, was
the common heritage of humanity, a birthright of all people. ...
All society needed to do was to collect the economic rent from
landholders as its rightful due, a solution that became part of the
subtitle of his book, “the remedy.” Taxing the land (or, alternatively,
collecting the economic rent) was something common citizens could
They knew well the enormous disparity in fortune between the
the landless. They knew also that there was in fact land enough for
all, except for a system of ownership that made no distinction between
the right of land use and the right of land gain. George had no doubt
read Frenchman P. J. Proudhon’s more strident pamphlet that “property
is theft.” 33
He knew that there was a long tradition of land taxation, well
articulated by a French school of philosophers known as the
Physiocrats. It was a natural and
comprehensible solution for him to
advocate the adoption of the “single tax” on land, according to its
market value, to collect the economic rent. ... read the whole article
What Is Geolibertarianism?
Geolibertarians are simply libertarians who take the principle of self-ownership
to its logical conclusion: Just as the right to one's self implies the right
to the fruit of one's labor (i.e., the right to property), the right to the
fruit of one's labor implies the right to labor, and the right to labor implies
the right to labor — somewhere. Hence John
Locke's proviso that one has "property" in land only to the
extent that there is "enough, and as good left in common for others." When
there is not, land begins to have rental value.
Thus, the rental value of land reflects the extent to which Locke's proviso
has been violated, thereby making community-collection of rent, or CCR, a
just and necessary means of upholding the Lockean principle of private property.
In the late 19th century CCR was known as the "Single Tax"— a
term that was (and is) used to denote Henry
George's proposal to abolish all taxes save for a single "tax" on
the value of land, irrespective of the value of improvements in or on it.
Fred E. Foldvary — The
Ultimate Tax Reform:
Public Revenue from Land Rent
The concept of taxing land values for public finance is ancient. The Bible
declares “the profit of the Earth is for all” (Ecclesiastes 5:9).
Land rent financed government in England during the Middle Ages.9 During the
1700s, some French economists proposed an “impöt unique” or
single tax on land value. Calling their theory “physiocracy” (the
rule of natural law), they outlined a model of economic development that used
land value taxes to finance public works, which increased the value of the
land (and thus increased taxes paid to the treasury), resulting in an upward
spiral of development and prosperity. The principal physiocratic economist,
François Quesnay, wrote
Taxes ... should be laid directly on the net product of landed property,
and not on men’s wages, or on produce, where they would increase
the cost of collection, operate to the detriment of trade, and destroy
year a portion of the nation’s wealth. [Emphasis in the original.]10
... read the whole document
Frank Stilwell and Kirrily Jordan: The
Political Economy of Land: Putting Henry George in His Place
The publication of George’s major treatise, Progress and Poverty,
in 1879 stimulated widespread interest. Supporters emerged throughout the
Western world, roused by George’s explanation of wealth inequalities
and inspired by his proposed solution of a single tax on land. However, this
initial wave of interest subsided, and George’s ideas have been almost
universally ignored in ‘respectable’ economic circles during
the last century. They have been accorded the status of a historical curiosity,
at best (see, for example, Heilbroner, 1968: 166-73). But a Georgist movement
advocating a land tax has persisted and the last few years have seen a partial
resurgence. While still
ignored by the economic orthodoxy, interest in George’s work has been stimulated
by modern concerns about housing affordability and environmental decay. Such
revival of interest recognises that these problems stem, in part, from inadequate
policies relating to land. Some members of Green parties, in particular, have
embraced Georgist ideas.
Not all those attracted to Georgism embrace the extreme single-tax position.
A more pragmatic position emphasises retaining a mix of different taxes but putting
more emphasis on land tax revenues and less on income, consumption, payroll and
other taxes. In the Australian
context a pragmatic Georgism emphasises:
- aligning the rates of land taxes currently levied by the State governments
so as to eliminate inter-State variations in the tax scales;
- removing the existing exemption from land tax for owner-occupied property;
- ensuring that all rate revenues generated by local governments are based
on unimproved capital values, ie. on land values only, not including the
value of any property on that land;
- combining these State and local revenue-raising measures into a more
comprehensive nationally uniform land tax system;
- incrementally raising the rate of land tax and making corresponding reductions
in taxes on income, consumption, employment, capital gains (other than
gains arising from land values) and stamp duties. ... read the whole article
an entry The Single Tax, from The Handy Cyclopedia of
Things Worth Knowing: A Manual of Ready Reference,
by Joseph Triemens, 1911
This idea was first formulated by Mr. Henry George in 1879, and has grown
steadily in favor. Single-tax men assert as a fundamental principle that
all men are equally entitled to the use of the earth; therefore, no one should
be allowed to hold valuable land without paying to the community the value
of the privilege. They hold that this is the only rightful source of public
revenue, and they would therefore abolish all taxation — local, state
and national — except a tax upon the rental value of land exclusive
of its improvements, the revenue thus raised to be divided among local,
and general governments, as the revenue from certain direct taxes is now
divided between local and state governments.
The single tax would not fall on all land, but only on valuable land, and
on that in proportion to its value. It would thus be a tax, not on use or improvements,
but on ownership of land, taking what would otherwise go to the landlord as
In accordance with the principle that all men are equally entitled to the
use of the earth, they would solve the transportation problem by public ownership
and control of all highways, including the roadbeds of railroads, leaving their
use equally free to all.
The single-tax system would, they claim, dispense with a horde of tax-gatherers,
simplify government, and greatly reduce its cost; give us with all the world
that absolute free trade which now exists between the States of the Union:
abolish all taxes on private issues of money; take the weight of taxation from
agricultural districts, where land has little or no value apart from improvements,
and put it upon valuable land, such as city lots and mineral deposits. It would
call upon men to contribute for public expenses in proportion to the natural
opportunities they monopolize, and make it unprofitable for speculators to
hold land unused or only partly used, thus opening to labor unlimited fields
of employment, solving the labor problem and abolishing involuntary poverty.
Weld Carter: An Introduction to
George is largely remembered for
the single tax. But the single
tax came at the end of a long trail as a means -- the means,
he said -- by which to remedy ills previously identified and
diagnosed. Behind the single tax lay a closely knit system of
thought. To understand George, it is necessary to go behind the
single tax and explore that system for its major characteristics.
Notable in George's work is the
emphasis he laid on the relation
of man to the earth. "The most important of all the material
relations of man is his relation to the planet he inhabits."
George might well be called a land
economist, indeed, the foremost
land economist. For George, the basic fact of man's physical
existence is that he is a land animal, "who can live only on and from
land, and can use other elements, such as air, sunshine and water,
only by the use of land." "Without either of
the three elements, land, air and water, man could not exist; but he
is peculiarly a land animal, living on its surface, and drawing from
it his supplies." ...
To recapitulate at this point: man
is always dependent upon land
for life and living, both as the source of raw materials for his
products and as the place on which to fashion, trade, service, and
enjoy these products. Private property in land is inexpedient, for by
inducing speculation in land in good times, it brings on bad times;
however, private property in products is expedient because it
provides the incentive to produce. Private property in land is
morally wrong, first because it denies land to mankind in general,
and second because it provides a primary way for nonproducers to levy
toll on producers. However, private property in products is morally
right, deriving as it does directly from the right of a man to
himself. The taxation of land values is expedient because it
stimulates production whereas the taxation of products is inexpedient
because it checks production. The taxation of land values is
naturally right, for through it the community levies on the precise
values community has created. However, the taxation of products is
morally wrong because it deprives labor and capital of their just
This chain of reasoning,
demonstrating that both justice and
expediency called for the same course of action, inevitably led
George to a "simple -- yet sovereign remedy."
That remedy was: "To abolish all taxation save that upon land values."
This is the single tax, with which George's
name is so largely associated.
Implications of the Single Tax
As is already evident, the
single tax was more than a mere fiscal
reform, because it dealt with questions of primary social morality,
and with matters that permeated the entire economy. Yet George saw
even broader implications than these.
If the conclusions at which we
have arrived are correct, they will
fall under a larger generalization.
Let us, therefore, recommence our
inquiry from a higher
standpoint, whence we may survey a wider field.
What is the law of human
George saw ours alone among the
civilizations of the world as
still progressing; all others had either petrified or had vanished.
And in our civilization he had already detected alarming evidences of
corruption and decay. So he sought out the forces that create
civilization and the forces that destroy it.
He found the incentives to
progress to be the desires inherent in
human nature, and the motor of progress to be what he called mental
power. But the mental power that is available for progress is only
what remains after nonprogressive demands have been met. These
demands George listed as maintenance and conflict.
In his isolated state, primitive
man's powers are required simply
to maintain existence; only as he begins to associate in communities
and to enjoy the resultant economies is mental power set free for
higher uses. Hence, association is the first essential of progress:
And as the wasteful expenditure of
mental power in conflict
becomes greater or less as the moral law which accords to each an
equality of rights is ignored or is recognized, equality (or justice)
is the second essential of progress.
Thus association in equality is
the law of progress. Association
frees mental power for expenditure in improvement, and equality, or
justice, or freedom -- for the terms here signify the same thing, the
recognition of the moral law -- prevents the dissipation of this
power in fruitless struggles.
He concluded this phase of his
analysis of civilization in these
words: "The law of human progress, what is it but the moral law? Just
as social adjustments promote justice, just as they acknowledge the
equality of right between man and man, just as they insure to each
the perfect liberty which is bounded only by the equal liberty of
every other, must civilization advance. Just as they fail in this,
must advancing civilization come to a halt and recede..."
However, as the primary relation
of man is to the earth, so must
the primary social adjustment concern the relation of man to the
earth. Only that social adjustment which affords all mankind equal
access to nature and which insures labor its full earnings will
promote justice, acknowledge equality of right between man and man,
and insure perfect liberty to each.
This, according to George, was
what the single tax would do. It
was why he saw the single tax as not merely a fiscal reform but as
the basic reform without which no other reform could, in the long
run, avail. This is why he said, "What is inexplicable, if we lose
sight of man's absolute and constant dependence upon land, is clear
when we recognize it." read the whole article