Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George,
a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry
George (with links to sources)
THE mere abolition of protection — the mere substitution of a revenue
tariff for a protective tariff — is such a lame and timorous application
of the free-trade principle that it is a misnomer to speak of it as free
trade. A revenue tariff is only a somewhat milder restriction on trade than
a protective tariff.
Free trade, in its true meaning, requires not merely the abolition of protection
but the sweeping away of all tariffs — the abolition of all restrictions
(save those imposed in the interests of public health or morals) on the bringing
of things into a country or the carrying of things out of a country.
But free trade cannot logically stop with the abolition of custom-houses. It
applies as well to domestic as to foreign trade, and in its true sense requires
the abolition of all internal taxes that fall on buying, selling, transporting
or exchanging, on the making of any transaction or the carrying on of any business,
save of course where the motive of the tax is public safety, health or morals.
Thus the adoption of true free trade involves the abolition of all indirect taxation
of whatever kind, and the resort to direct taxation for all public revenues.
But this is not all. Trade, as we have seen, is a mode of production, and the
freeing of trade is beneficial because it is a freeing of production. For the
same reason, therefore, that we ought not to tax anyone for adding to the wealth
of a country by bringing valuable things into it, we ought not to tax anyone
for adding to the wealth of a country by producing within that country valuable
things. Thus the principle of free trade requires that we should not merely abolish
all indirect taxes, but that we should abolish as well all direct taxes on things
that are the produce of labor; that we should, in short, give full play to the
natural stimulus to production — the possession and enjoyment of the things
produced — by imposing no tax whatever upon the production, accumulation
or possession of wealth (the things produced by labor), leaving everyone free
to make exchange, give, spend or bequeath. — Protection or Free Trade — Chapter
26: True Free Trade - econlib -|- abridged
THE tax upon land values is the most just and equal of all taxes. It falls only
upon those who receive from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon
them in proportion to the benefit they receive. It is the taking by the community,
for the use of the community, of that value which is the creation of the community.
It is the application of the common property to common uses. When all rent
is taken by taxation for the needs of the community, then will the equality
ordained by nature be attained. No citizen will have an advantage over any
other citizen save as is given by his industry, skill, and intelligence; and
each will obtain what he fairly earns. Then, but not till then, will labor
get its full reward, and capital its natural return. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VIII, Chapter 3, Application of the Remedy: The Proposition Tried by the Canons
HERE is a provision made by natural law for the increasing needs of social growth;
here is an adaptation of nature by virtue of which the natural progress of society
is a progress toward equality not toward inequality; a centripetal force tending
to unity growing out of and ever balancing a centrifugal force tending to diversity.
Here is a fund belonging to society as a whole, from which without the degradation
of alms, private or public, provision can be made for the weak, the helpless,
the aged; from which provision can be made for the common wants of all as a matter
of common right to each. — Social
Problems — Chapter
19, The First Great Reform
NOT only do all economic considerations point to a tax on land values
as the proper source of public revenues; but so do all British traditions.
land tax of four shillings in the pound of rental value is still nominally
enforced in England, but being levied on a valuation made in the reign of
William III, it amounts in reality to not much over a penny in the pound.
With the abolition of indirect taxation this is the tax to which men would
naturally turn. The resistance of landholders would bring up the question
of title, and thus any movement which went so far as to propose the substitution
of direct for indirect taxation must inevitably end in a demand for the restoration
to the British people of their birthright. — Protection or Free
Trade— Chapter 27: The Lion in the Way - econlib
THE feudal system, which is not peculiar to Europe but seems to be the natural
result of the conquest of a settled country by a race among whom equality and
individuality are yet strong, clearly recognized, in theory at least, that
the land belongs to society at large, not to the individual. Rude outcome of
an age in which might stood for right as nearly as it ever can (for the idea
of right is ineradicable from the human mind, and must in some shape show itself
even in the association of pirates and robbers), the feudal system yet admitted
in no one the uncontrolled and exclusive right to land. A fief was essentially
a a trust, and to enjoyment was annexed obligation. The sovereign, theoretically
the representative of the collective power and rights of the whole people,
was in feudal view the only absolute owner of land. And though land was granted
to individual possession, yet in its possession were involved duties, by which
the enjoyer of its revenues was supposed to render back to the commonwealth
an equivalent for the benefits which from the delegation of the common right
he received. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 4, Justice of the Remedy: Private Property in Land Historically
THE abolition of the military tenures in England by the Long Parliament,
ratified after the accession of Charles II, though simply an appropriation
of public revenues by the feudal landowners, who thus got rid of the consideration
on which they held the common property of the nation, and saddled it on the
people at large in the taxation of all consumers, has been long characterized,
and is still held up in the law books, as a triumph of the spirit of freedom.
Yet here is the source of the immense debt and heavy taxation of England.
Had the form of these feudal dues been simply changed into one better adapted
to the changed times, English wars need never have occasioned the incurring
of debt to the amount of a single pound, and the labor and capital of England
need not have been taxed a single farthing for the maintenance of a military
establishment. All this would have come from rent, which the landholders
since that time have appropriated to themselves — from the tax which
land ownership levies on the earnings of labor and capital. The landholders
of England got their land on terms which required them even in the sparse
population of Norman days to put in the field, upon call, sixty thousand
perfectly equipped horsemen, and on the further condition of various fines
and incidents which amounted to a considerable part of the rent. It would
probably be a low estimate to put the pecuniary value of these various services
and dues at one-half the rental value of the land. Had the landholders been
kept to this contract and no land been permitted to be inclosed except upon
similar terms, the income accruing to the nation from English land would
today be greater by many millions than the entire public revenues of the
United Kingdom. England today might have enjoyed absolute free trade. There
need not have been a customs duty, an excise, license or income tax, yet
all the present expenditures could be met, and a large surplus remain to
be devoted to any purpose which would conduce to the comfort or well-being
of the whole people. — Progress &Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 4, Justice of the Remedy: Private Property in Land Historically
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Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)
II. THE SINGLE TAX AS A FISCAL REFORM
1. DIRECT AND INDIRECT TAXATION
Taxes are either direct or indirect; or, as they have been aptly described, "straight" or "crooked." Indirect
taxes are those that may be shifted by the first payer from himself to others;
direct taxes are those that cannot be shifted.5
5. "Taxes are either direct or indirect. A direct tax is one which
is demanded from the very persons who, it is intended or desired, should
pay it. Indirect taxes are those which are demanded from one person in the
expectation and intention that he shall indemnify himself at the expense
of another." — John Stuart Mill's Prin. of Pol. Ec., book
v, ch. iii, sec. I.
"Direct taxes are those which are levied on the very persons who it
is intended or desired should pay them, and which they cannot put off upon
others by raising the prices of the taxed article.. . . Indirect taxes on
the other hand are those which are levied on persons who expect to get back
the amount of the tax by raising the price of the taxed article." — Laughlin's
Elements, par. 249.
Taxes are direct "when the payment is made by the person who is intended
to bear the sacrifice." Indirect taxes are recovered from final purchasers. — Jevons's
Primer, sec. 96.
"Indirect taxes are so called because they are not paid into the treasury
by the person who really bears the burden. The payer adds the amount of the
tax to the price of the commodity taxed, and thus the taxation is concealed
under the increased price of some article of luxury or convenience." — Thompson's
Pol. Ec., sec. 175.
The shifting of indirect taxes is accomplished by means of their tendency
to increase the prices of commodities on which they fall. Their magnitude
and incidence 6 are thereby disguised. It was for this reason that a great
French economist of the last century denounced them as "a scheme for
so plucking geese as to get the most feathers with the least squawking."7
6. Jevons defines the incidence of a tax as "the manner in which it
falls upon different classes of the population." — Jevons's
Primer, sec. 96.
Sometimes called "repercussion," and refers "to the real as
opposed to the nominal payment of taxes." — Ely's Taxation,
7. Though his language was blunt, the sentiment does not
essentially differ from that of "statesmen" of our day who
meet all the moral and economic objections to indirect taxation with
the one reply that
would not consent to pay enough or the support of government if public
revenues were collected from them directly. This means nothing but that
are actually hoodwinked by indirect taxation into sustaining a government
that they would not support if they knew it was maintained at their expense;
and instead of being a reason for continuing indirect taxation, would,
if true, be one of the strongest of reasons for abolishing it. It is
neither with the plainest principles of democracy nor the simplest conceptions
Indirect taxation costs the real tax-payers much more than the government
receives, partly because the middlemen through whose hands taxed commodities
pass are able to exact compound profits upon the tax,8 and partly on account
of extraordinary expenses of original collection;9 it favors corruption in
government by concealing from the people the fact that they contribute to
the support of government; and it tends, by obstructing production, to crush
legitimate industry and establish monopolies.10 The questions it raises are
of vastly more concern than is indicated by the sum total of public expenditures.
8. A tax upon shoes, paid in the first instance by shoe manufacturers, enters
into manufacturers' prices, and, together with the usual rate of profit upon
that amount of investment, is recovered from wholesalers. The tax and the
manufacturers' profit upon it then constitute part of the wholesale price
and are collected from retailers. The retailers in turn collect the tax with
all intermediate profits upon it, together with their :usual rate of profit
upon the whole, from final purchasers -- the consumers of shoes. Thus what
appears on the surface to be a tax upon shoe manufacturers proves upon examination
to be an indirect tax upon shoe consumers, who pay in an accumulation of
profits upon the tax considerably more than the government receives.
The effect would be the same if a tax upon their leather output were imposed
upon tanners. Tanners would add to the price of leather the amount of the
tax, plus their usual rate of profit upon a like investment, and collect
the whole, together with the cost of hides, of transportation, of tanning
and of selling, from shoe manufacturers, who would collect with their profit
from retailers, who would collect with their profit from shoe consumers.
The principle applies also when taxes are levied upon the stock or the sales
of merchants, or the money or credits of bankers; merchants add the tax with
the usual profit to the prices of their goods, and bankers add it to their
interest and discounts.
For example; a tax of $100,000 upon the output of manufacturers
or importers would, at 10 per cent as the manufacturing profit, cost wholesalers
at a profit of 10 per cent to wholesalers it would cost retailers $121,000,
and at 20 percent profit to retailers it would finally impose a tax burden
of $145,200 — being 45 per cent more than the government would get.
Upon most commodities the number of profits exceeds three, so that indirect
taxes may frequently cost as much as 100 per cent, even when imposed only
upon what are commercially known as finished goods; when imposed upon materials
also, the cost of collection might well run far above 200 percent in addition
to the first cost of maintaining the machinery of taxation.
It must not be supposed, however, that the recovery of indirect taxes from
the ultimate consumers of taxed goods is arbitrary. When shoe manufacturers,
or tanners, or merchants add taxes to prices, or bankers add them to interest,
it is not because they might do otherwise but choose to do this; it is because
the exigencies of trade compel them. Manufacturers, merchants, and other
tradesmen who carry on competitive businesses must on the average sell their
goods at cost plus the ordinary rate of profit, or go out of business. It
follows that any increase in cost of production tends to increase the price
of products. Now, a tax upon the output of business men, which they must
pay as a condition of doing their business, is as truly part of the cost
of their output as is the price of the materials they buy or the wages of
the men they hire. Therefore, such a tax upon business men tends to increase
the price of their products. And this tendency is more or less marked as
the tax is more or less great and competition more or less keen.
It is true that a moderate tax upon monopolized products,
such as trade-mark goods, proprietary medicines, patented articles and
is not necessarily shifted to consumers. The monopoly manufacturer whose
prices are not checked by cost of production, and are therefore as a rule
higher than competitive prices would be, may find it more profitable to bear
the burden of a tax that leaves him some profit, by preserving his entire
custom, than to drive off part of his custom by adding the tax to his usual
prices. This is true also of a moderate import tax to the extent it falls
upon goods that are more cheaply transported from the place of production
to a foreign market where the import tax is imposed than to a home market
where the goods would be free of such a tax — products, for instance,
of a farm in Canada near to a New York town, but far away from any Canadian
town. If the tax be less than the difference in the cost of transportation
the producer will bear the burden of it; otherwise he will not. The ultimate
effect would be a reduction in the value of the Canadian land. Examples which
may be cited in opposition to the principle that import taxes are indirect,
will upon examination prove to be of the character here described. Business
cannot be carried on at a loss — not for long.
9. "To collect taxes, to prevent and punish evasions, to check and
countercheck revenue drawn from so many distinct sources, now make up probably
three-fourths, perhaps seven-eighths, of the business of government outside
of the preservation of order, the maintenance of the military arm, and the
administration of justice." — Progress and Poverty, book iv, ch:
10. For a brief and thorough exposition of indirect taxation
read George's "Protection
or Free Trade," ch. viii, on " Tariffs for Revenue."
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
11. This is usually a stumbling block to those who, without much experience
in economic thought, consider the single tax for the first time. As soon
as they grasp the idea that taxes upon commodities shift to consumers they
jump to the conclusion that similarly taxes upon land values would shift
to the users. But this is a mistake, and the explanation is simple. Taxes
upon what men produce make production more difficult and so tend toward scarcity
in the supply, which stimulates prices; but taxes upon land, provided the
taxes be levied in proportion to value, tend toward plenty in supply (meaning
market supply of course), because they make it more difficult to hold valuable
land idle, and so depress prices.
"A tax on rent falls wholly on the landlord. There are no means by
which he can shift the burden upon anyone else. . . A tax on rent, therefore,
has no effect other than its obvious one. It merely takes so much from the
landlord and transfers it to the state." — John Stuart Mill's
Prin. of Pol. Ec., book v, ch. iii, sec. 1.
"A tax laid upon rent is borne solely by the owner of land." — Bascom's
"Taxes which are levied on land . . . really fall on the owner of the
land." — Mrs. Fawcett's Pol. Ec. for Beginners, pp.209, 210.
"A land tax levied in proportion to the rent of land, and varying with
every variation of rents, . . . will fall wholly on the landlords." — Walker's
Pol. Ec., ed. of 1887, p. 413, quoting Ricardo.
"The power of transferring a tax from the person who actually pays
it to some other person varies with the object taxed. A tax on rents cannot
be transferred. A tax on commodities is always transferred to the consumer." — Thorold
Rogers's Pol. Ec., ch. xxi, 2d ed., p. 285.
"Though the landlord is in all cases the real contributor, the tax
is commonly advanced by the tenant, to whom the landlord is obliged to allow
it in payment of the rent." — Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations,
book v, ch. ii, part ii, art. i.
"The way taxes raise prices is by increasing the cost of production
and checking supply. But land is not a thing of human production, and taxes
upon rent cannot check supply. Therefore, though a tax upon rent compels
land-owners to pay more, it gives them no power to obtain more for the use
of their land, as it in no way tends to reduce the supply of land. On the
contrary, by compelling those who hold land on speculation to sell or let
for what they can get, a tax on land values tends to increase the competition
between owners, and thus to reduce the price of land." — Progress
and Poverty, book viii, ch. iii, subd. i.
Sometimes this point is raised as a question of shifting the tax in higher
rent to the tenant, and at others as a question of shifting it to the consumers
of goods in higher prices. The principle is the same. Merchants cannot charge
higher prices for goods than their competitors do, merely because they pay
higher ground rents. A country storekeeper whose business lot is worth but
few dollars charges as much for sugar, probably more, than a city grocer
whose lot is worth thousands. Quality for quality and quantity for quantity,
goods sell for about the same price everywhere. Differences in price are
altogether in favor of places where land has a high value. This is due to
the fact that the cost of getting goods to places of low land value, distant
villages for example, is greater than to centers, which are places of high
land value. Sometimes it is true that prices for some things are higher where
land values are high. Tiffany's goods, for instance, may be more expensive
than goods of the same quality at a store on a less expensive site. But that
is not due to the higher land value; it is because the dealer has a reputation
for technical knowledge and honesty (or has become a fad among rich people),
for which his customers are willing to pay whether his store is on a high
priced-lot or a low-priced one.
Though land value has no effect upon the price of good,
it is easier to sell goods in some locations than in others. Therefore,
though the price
and the profit of each sale be the same, or even less, in good locations
than in poorer ones, aggregate receipts and aggregate profits are much
greater at the good location. And it is out of his aggregate, and not out
profit, that rent is paid, For example: A cigar store on a thoroughfare
supplies a certain quality of cigar for fifteen cents. On a side street
the same quality
of cigar can be bought no cheaper. Indeed, the cigars there are likely
to be poorer, and therefore really dearer. Yet ground rent on the thoroughfare
is very high compared with ground rent on the sidestreet. How, then,
the first dealer, he who pays the high ground rent, afford to sell as
good or better cigars for fifteen cents than his competitor of the low
location? Simply because he is able to make so many more sales with a
given outlay of labor and capital in a given time that his aggregate profit
greater. This is due to the advantage of his location, and for that advantage
he pays a premium in higher ground rent. But that premium is not charged
to smokers; the competing dealer of the side street protects them. It
represents the greater ease, the lower cost, of doing a given volume of
the site for which it is paid; add if the state should take any of it,
even the whole of it, in taxation, the loss would be finally borne by the
of the advantage which attaches to that site — by the landlord.
Any attempt to shift it to tenant or buyer would be promptly checked
by the competition
of neighboring but cheaper land.
"A land-tax, levied in proportion to the rent of land, and varying
with every variation of rent, is in effect a tax on rent; and as such a tax
will not apply to that land which yields no rent, nor to the produce of that
capital which is employed on the land with a view to profit merely, and which
never pays rent; it will not in any way affect the price of raw produce,
but will fall wholly on the landlords." — McCulloch's Ricardo
(3d ed.), p. 207
2. THE TWO KINDS OF DIRECT TAXATION
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.
12. It is often said, for instance, by its advocates, that house owners
should in justice contribute to the support of the fire departments that
protect them and it is even gravely argued that houses are more appropriate
subjects of taxation than land; because they need protection, whereas land
needs none. Read note 8.
Let it once be perceived that the value of the service which government
renders to each individual would be justly measured by the single tax, and
neither objection would any longer have weight. We should then no more think
of taxing people in proportion to their wealth or ability to pay, regardless
of the benefits they receive from government than an honest merchant would
think of charging his customers in proportion to their wealth or ability
to pay, regardless of the value of the goods they bought of him." 13
13. Following is an interesting computation of the cost
and loss to the city of Boston of the present mixed system of taxation
as compared with the single tax; The computation was made by James
R. Carret, Esq., the leading conveyancer of Boston:
Valuation of Boston, May 1, 1892
Land... ... . .. ... .. ... .. $399,170,175
Buildings ... ... ... ... ..$281,109,700
Total assessed value of real estate $680,279,875
Assessed value of personal estate $213,695,829
.... .... ... ... ... ... ... ... .... .... .... ...
.... ... $893,975,704
Rate of taxation, $12.90 per $1000
Total tax levy, May 1, 1892 $11,805,036
Amount of taxes levied in respect of the different subjects
of taxation and percentages of the same:
Land .... .... .... .... $5,149,295 43.62%
Buildings .... .... .. $3,626,295 30.72%
Personal estate .. $2,756,676 23.35%
Polls ... .... ... .... .... ...272,750 2.31%
But to ascertain the total cost to the people of Boston
of the present system of taxation for the taxable year, beginning May
1, 1892, there should be added to the taxes assessed upon them what
it cost them to pay the owners of the land of Boston for the use of
the land, being the net ground rent, which I estimate at four per cent
on the land value.
Total tax levy, May 1, 1892 ... ... ... ... .... ....
.... .... .... ..... .... .... .... .... .... .... ..$11,805,036
Net ground rent, four percent, on the land value
($399,170,175)..... ... ... ...$15,966,807
Total cost of the present system to the people
of Boston for that year ... $27,771,843
To contrast this with what the single tax system would
have cost the people of Boston for that year, take the gross ground
rent, found by adding to the net ground rent the taxation on land values
for that year, being $12.90 per $1000, or 1.29 per cent added to 4
per cent = 5.29 per cent.
Total cost of present system as above .. .... .... ....
.... .... .... .... .... ....$27,771,843
Single tax, or gross ground rent, 5.29 per cent
on $399,170,175 ... ..$21,116,102
Excess cost of present system, which is the sum
taxes in respect of buildings, personal property,
and polls .... ...... .. $6,655,741
But the present system not only costs the people more
than the single tax would, but produces less revenue:
Proceeds of single tax ... ... ... ... ..... .... ....
..... .... .... .... ..... ..... .... $21,116,102
Present tax levy ... ... ... ... ... .... ....
.... ..... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... ....$11,805,036
Loss to public treasury by present system ...
.... .... .... .... .. ..... ..$9,311,066
This, however, is not a complete contrast between the
present system and the single tax, for large amounts of real estate
are exempt from taxation, being held by the United States, the Commonwealth,
by the city itself, by religious societies and corporations, and by
charitable, literary, and scientific institutions. The total amount
of the value of land so held as returned by the assessors for the year
1892 is $60,626,171.
Reasons can be given why all lands within the city should
be assessed for taxation to secure a just distribution of the public
burdens, which I cannot take the space to enter into here. There is
good reason to believe also that lands in the city of Boston are assessed
to quite an appreciable extent below their fair market value. As an
indication of this see an editorial in the Boston Daily Advertiser for
October 3, 1893, under the title, "Their Own Figures."
The vacant lands, marsh lands, and flats in Boston were
valued by the assessors in 1892 (page 3 of their annual report) at
$52,712,600. I believe that this represents not more than fifty per
cent of their true market value.
Taking this and the undervaluation of improved property
and the exemptions above mentioned into consideration, I think $500,000,000
to be a fair estimate of the land values of Boston. Making this the
basis of contrast, we have:
Proceeds of single tax 5.29 per cent on $500,000,000
... .... .... .... $26,450,000
Present tax levy ... .... ... .... .... .... ....
.... ..... .... .... .... .... ..... .... .... ..$11,805,036
Loss to public treasury by present system ...
... ... ... .... .... .... ....$14,644,974 ...
Q28. If taxes have to be paid by labor, what difference does it make to
laborers whether they are levied in proportion to land values, or otherwise?
A. When taxes are levied upon earners in proportion to earnings, they take
what the earners would otherwise keep; but when they are levied upon land-owners
in proportion to land values, they take what the earners must in any event
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