Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone is not enough to produce widely shared prosperity.
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What's Wrong with an Income Tax?
that is, a tax on wage income

Ethically, it is theft. It treats as common property that which individuals create through their own labor. It may be that, having taxed completely the more ethical tax bases — that is, taxes on land and natural resources and other things humans cannot create — we as a society might decide that we still needed more revenue for public purposes. At that point, a case might be made for taxing wages. But clearly a tax on wages should not be one of our first taxes, but one of our last-resort taxes, and then starting only at the highest of incomes, particularly if there is still huge concentration of income after tax reforms are undertaken.

Income taxes require income tax forms, and require compliance by the taxpayer. Much income is not reported. Loopholes create opportunities for the rich. Underground economies are encouraged.

What we tax we get less of — as long as the item is of elastic supply, which labor certainly is. When we tax labor, we discourage people from working. We reduce their incentives to work. This is equally true at the top and bottom of the income spectrum.

Henry George: The Condition of Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)

As to the right of ownership, we hold: That —

Being created individuals, with individual wants and powers, men are individually entitled (subject of course to the moral obligations that arise from such relations as that of the family) to the use of their own powers and the enjoyment of the results. There thus arises, anterior to human law, and deriving its validity from the law of God, a right of private ownership in things produced by labor — a right that the possessor may transfer, but of which to deprive him without his will is theft.

This right of property, originating in the right of the individual to himself, is the only full and complete right of property. It attaches to things produced by labor, but cannot attach to things created by God.

Thus, if a man take a fish from the ocean he acquires a right of property in that fish, which exclusive right he may transfer by sale or gift. But he cannot obtain a similar right of property in the ocean, so that he may sell it or give it or forbid others to use it.

Or, if he set up a windmill he acquires a right of property in the things such use of wind enables him to produce. But he cannot claim a right of property in the wind itself, so that he may sell it or forbid others to use it.

Or, if he cultivate grain he acquires a right of property in the grain his labor brings forth. But he cannot obtain a similar right of property in the sun which ripened it or the soil on which it grew. For these things are of the continuing gifts of God to all generations of men, which all may use, but none may claim as his alone.

To attach to things created by God the same right of private ownership that justly attaches to things produced by labor is to impair and deny the true rights of property. For a man who out of the proceeds of his labor is obliged to pay another man for the use of ocean or air or sunshine or soil, all of which are to men involved in the single term land, is in this deprived of his rightful property and thus robbed. ... read the whole letter

Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)


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

... read the book



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