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
"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 Tr., p.159.
"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,
"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 of each 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, can 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 priced 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 is 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 business upon 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 owner 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