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Do we really want to provide another way to trickle income to our (rather concentrated) business community? Can we afford for some to profit and the rest of us to pay higher prices for essential goods?

Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a themed collection of excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)

THE mode of taxation is quite as important as the amount. As a small burden badly placed may distress a horse that could carry with ease a much larger one properly adjusted, so a people may be impoverished and their power of producing wealth destroyed by taxation, which, if levied in another way, could be borne with ease. — Progress & Poverty — Book VIII, Chapter 3, Application of the Remedy: The Proposition Tried by the Canons of Taxation

IF we impose a tax upon buildings, the users of buildings must finally pay it, for the erection of buildings will cease until building rents become high enough to pay the regular profit and the tax besides. If we impose a tax upon manufactures or imported goods, the manufacturer or importer will charge it in a higher price to the jobber, the jobber to the retailer, and the retailer to the consumer. Now, the consumer, on whom the tax thus ultimately falls, must not only pay the amount of the tax, but also a profit on this amount to everyone who has thus advanced it — for profit on the capital he has advanced in paying taxes is as much required by each dealer as profit on the capital he has advanced in paying for goods.Progress & Poverty — Book VIII, Chapter 3, Application of the Remedy: The Proposition Tried by the Canons of Taxation

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 on rent compels the landowners 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 & Poverty — Book VIII, Chapter 3, Application of the Remedy: The Proposition Tried by the Canons of Taxation

... go to "Gems from George"

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

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

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 $110,000; 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 copyright publications 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. ...


The single tax conforms most closely to the essential principles of Adam Smith's four classical maxims, which are stated best by Henry George 19 as follows:

The best tax by which public revenues can be raised is evidently that which will closest conform to the following conditions:

  1. That it bear as lightly as possible upon production — so as least to check the increase of the general fund from which taxes must be paid and the community maintained. 20
  2. That it be easily and cheaply collected, and fall as directly as may be upon the ultimate payers — so as to take from the people as little as possible in addition to what it yields the government. 21
  3. That it be certain — so as to give the least opportunity for tyranny or corruption on the part of officials, and the least temptation to law-breaking and evasion on the part of the tax-payers. 22
  4. That it bear equally — so as to give no citizen an advantage or put any at a disadvantage, as compared with others. 23

19. "Progress and Poverty," book viii. ch.iii.

20. This is the second part of Adam Smith's fourth maxim. He states it as follows: "Every tax ought to be so contrived as both to take out and to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the state. A tax may either take out or keep out of the pockets of the people a great deal more than it brings into the public treasury in the four following ways: . . . Secondly, it may obstruct the industry of the people, and discourage them from applying to certain branches of business which might give maintenance and employment to great multitudes. While it obliges the people to pay, it may thus diminish or perhaps destroy some of the funds which might enable them more easily to do so."

21. This is the first part of Adam Smith's fourth maxim, in which he condemns a tax that takes out of the pockets of the people more than it brings into the public treasury.... read the book

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

Q8. What would be the expense of collecting the single tax as compared with that of collecting present taxes?
A. Much less. It is easier to assess fairly, and easier to collect fully; the machinery of assessment and collection would be simpler and cheaper, and it would not enable first payers to collect the tax with profits upon it from ultimate payers. ... read the book

Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism of Natural Taxation, from Principles of Natural Taxation (1917)

Q30. How would the single tax increase wages?
A. By gradually transferring to wages that portion of the current wealth that now flows to privilege. In other words, it would widen and deepen the channel of wages by enlarging opportunities for labor, and by increasing the purchasing power of nominal wages through reduction of prices. On the other hand it would narrow the channel of privilege by making the man who has a privilege pay for it.

Q31. How can this transfer be effected?
A. By the taxation of privilege.

Q32. How much ultimately may wages be thus increased?
A. Fifty percent would be a low estimate.

Q33. What are fair prices and fair wages?
A. Prices unenhanced by privilege, and wages undiminished by taxation. ... read the whole article



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