Page images

the money lender. Anyone who can guarantee the interest on a sum on money equal to the capitalization of the annual rent can secure land under the existing system. What more can he do should the state, as proprietor, demand annually a tax of 100 per cent upon the rental? In short, a tax on rental value to its full amount, which is what single tax proposes to prevent landlordism, cannot change the level of wages, or establish a national law of wages, or enlarge the liberty of the worker.

Finally, Adams illuminates, in much the terms of others, the obvious error of assuming that the influence of social evolution upon values is confined to real estate, and of overlooking both the duty of other classes of property to pay for special service received and the administrative inexpediency of a single tax to support separate civil divisions of government.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

Edwin R. A. Seligman, Professor of Political Economy and Finance, Columbia University, author of Essays in Taxation, The Shifting and Incidence of Taxation, etc., and perhaps the widest quoted at home and abroad of any American authority.

In Seligman's classic Essays in Taxation a full chapter is given to single tax. Its history as a movement since its inception in Europe in the seventeenth century is analyzed, and the arguments for and against are weighed clearly and impartially from practically every viewpoint. By what would seem to be irrefutable logic he proves the theory defective from all; practically, fiscally, politically, ethically and economically. On the whole, his facts and arguments are like those of the other writers quoted, although carried into greater detail. He gives particular attention, however, to the effect upon poor and new communities, upon farmers and agricultural interests, and upon the poor in rich communities. He emphasizes that while the poor backwoods or rural community (that is, poor in taxable values) will be utterly unable to raise revenue for current expenses and improvement, it cannot hope to share the revenue raised in richer communities because the latter will never relinquish them voluntarily and, having the power, will escape compulsion. Every county and town must stard on its own feet, and if the single tax is unable to defray even the local expenses of a poor community, not to speak of its share of general state expenses, it is clearly beyond the realm of practical politics. He predicts destruction of the one class above all others upon which our prosperity rests—the class of independent small farmers. He denies that the inhabitants of congested portions of large cities would be relieved of rent burden or discomfort by stimulation of suburban building, for the reason that rents are already lower in the suburbs than in tenements, but the latter are none the less crowded. This is largely a question of convenience and transportation cost. Moreover, since wages can be increased only through increase either of capital or efficiency, do system of taxation can improve them. This chapter in its entirety constitutes one of the most complete, simple and readable refutations of single tax, but is too cumulative in its logic to afford ideal quotations except, perhaps, its concluding page:

"We have learned first, that it would be inelastic, and that it would intensify the inequalities resulting from unjust assessments; secondly, that although itself proposed chiefly from social considerations, it would prevent the government from utilizing the taxing power for other social purposes, and that it would divorce the interests of the people from those of the government; thirdly, that it would offend against the canons of universality and equality of taxation, and that it would seriously exaggerate the difference between profits

from land and profits from other sources; and, finally, that it would be entirely inadequate in poor and new communities, that it would generally have an injurious influence on the farmer, and that even in the large urban centres it would exempt large sections of the population without bringing any substantial relief to the poorer classes.

"It is clearly impossible to discuss in this place the wider claim of the single-taxers, that the application of their scheme would introduce the social millennium. If economists thought that the distinguished single-tax leader had solved this problem, they would enthrone him high on their council seats; they would reverently bend the knee and acknowledge in him a master, a prophet. But when he comes to them with a tale that is as old as the hills; when he sets forth in his writings doctrines that have long since been refuted; when in his enthusiasm he seeks to impose a remedy which appears to them as unjust as it is one-sided, as inconsistent as it is inequitable—they have a right to protest. This is not the first time that some enthusiast has supposed that he has discovered a world-saving panacea.. The remedy for social maladjustments does not lie in any such lopsided idea; the only cure is the slow, gradual evolution of the moral conscience of mankind. We cannot solve the labor problem by any rule of thumb. Every student of history, of political philosophy, of economics, will tell us that the progress of the race has been slow and painful; that the world has advanced step by step; and that each successive step, to be enduring, must be founded on justice. To suppose for a moment that the social millennium will be ushered in by any one sudden change-even were the change not so lamentably inadequate as the one above discussed-is an evidence not of wisdom, but of short-sightedness.

“Even as a method of tax reform, the scheme is, as we have seen, a mistaken one.

Our system of taxation is far from being ideal, or even comparatively just; for we are still clinging, in a great degree, to mediaeval errors. But whatever be the much-needed reform, it is safe to say that neither the common people nor the student will ever accept a scheme which is palpably unjust, which abandons the whole ideal theory of modern taxation—that of relative ability of faculty--and which seeks to put the burdens of the many on the shoulders of the few."

One principle regarded as axiomatic by all these writers--that because there is no such thing as individually-produced wealth for which he owes society nothing, every citizen should bear a share of the cost of governmenthas been put very well by no less an authority than Huxley, who said:

“I cannot speak of my own knowledge, but I have every reason to believe that I came into this world a small, reddish person, certainly without a gold spoon in my mouth, and in fact with no discernible abstract or concrete ‘rights' or property of any description. If a foot was not at once set upon me as a squalling nuisance, it was either the natural affection of those about


which I certainly had done nothing to deserve, or the fear of the law, which, ages before my birth, was painfully built up by the society into which I intruded, that prevented that catastrophe. If I was nourished, cared for, saved from the vagabondage of a wastrel, taught, I certainly am not aware that I did anything to deserve those advantages, And, if I possess anything now, it strikes me that, though I may have fairly earned my day's wages for my day's work, and may justly call them my property, yet, without that organization of society, created out of the toil and blood of long generations before my time, I should probably have had nothing but a flint axe and an indifferent hut to call my own; and even those would be mine only so long as no stranger savage came my way. So that if society having-quite gratuitously-done all these things for me, asks me in turn to do something towards its preservation-even if that something is to contribute to the teaching of other men's children-I really, in spite of all my individualist leanings, feel rather ashamed to say 'No'. And if I were not ashamed, I cannot say that I think that society would be dealing unjustly with me in converting the moral obligation into a legal one. There is a manifest unfairness in letting all the burden be borne by the willing horse.”


(An abridged article from Brann's Iconoclast.)

The single tax is the antithesis of a paradox-apparently true, but really absurd. To say that all men are born with an equal right to natural resources is to state a general truth, but one of no more practical importance, either in ethics or economics, than that the sky is blue or water is wet. God is all-wise. God made man; man is a land animal. "From these premises it follows" (say single taxers) "that whatsoever abridges his free access to the land is, to that extent, an abrogation of bis natural rights and an insult to Omniscience." The same all-wise God made the panther, and the panther is a carnivorous animal; therefore it has a natural, an inalienable, right to kill and devour anything, from a cotton-tail to a single taxer!

Mr. George complains that critics of his system lose sight of fundamentals--are confused and misled by the complexions of modern society--yet there is one great fundamental which he has not yet found. Man is a gregarious, not a anchoretic, animal. Society is both natural and necessary, but it can in no wise exist without a material abridgement of the “natural rights” of the individual. Labor must be applied to land before it will yield subsistence, and to apply it profitably requires organization. While land is the creation of God, the social organism is the creation of man, in which the newcomer can plead no natural rights. He is entitled only to such place therein as he earns.

Mr. George complains that all land titles are founded in force and fraud-that not one of them can be traced back to the Creator. Quite true, but it is by force and fraud that man dominates the lower animals, which have as good "a natural right” as himself to the enjoyment of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is by force and fraud that he makes the horse to carry him, the cow to feed him and keeps his babes from the ravenous jaws of such wild beasts as seek to exercise their natural rights.”

I do not plead that landlordism is never an evil; it is frequently an outrage. But before condemning our land system in toto, it were well to inquire whether this be the rule or the exception. We find, on examination, that while a few have been enormously enriched by the increase of land values to which they contributed little, many who contributed much have become impoverished; that the American

land owner, collectively considered, instead of being an all-devouring octopus, receives but a beggarly return on his investment. We find that there has never been a time since the organization of this government when the "unearned increment," of which we hear so much, and which Mr. George proposes to confiscate for the public benefit, would pay the taxes laid upon the land. By "unearned increment" I mean-and understand Mr. George to mean the increase in market value of landed property. Take the land tax paid during the past 100 years, compound it annually at the prevailing commercial rate, subtract the present market value of every foot of American soil exclusive of improvements and you'll have enough left to buy the royal vermin of Europe. Government is already taking the "unearned increment," and taking it twice told, hence instead of the landlord being a leech on society, it is a leech on the landlord. Of course the lanalord as landlord produces nothing, the mulct is taken from the product of labor as applied to land. The owner of a railway, a factory or a million gold dollars produces nothing as owner, the increment arising solely from use. Land must yield the owner a rental somewhat in excess of taxes and cost of superintendence, else he would release it.

"Rent is simply interest paid upon land values by the user. As the earth was evidently made for the use of all, is that system defensible which enables one man to compel another to pay him for using any part thereof? As the community creates land value, may it not properly confiscate it?" Let us see:

I move far beyond the confines of civilization and there make myself a home. Other settlers follow until there is a community of a hundred families. Men congregate for mutual aid and society, and my land becomes the center of the settlement, and therefore the most desirable. Homes spring up around me in an ever-widening circle. When we have endured all the privation of pioneers, when we have driven off the Indians and slaughtered the wild beasts; when we have become sufficiently numerous to maintain a blacksmith and a doctor, a schoolmaster and a preacher, and are beginning to enjoy somewhat the sweets of civilization, Mr. George concludes to make his home among us. But he is not willing to take his place in the outer circle--he wants to get in the center. As I am growing old and can no longer use all my land I offer to part with a “forty” for a consideration, or I will lease him the land for a sum which in the opinion of home-seekers makes the difference between its desirability and that of the best land still open to settlement. Mr. George demands to see my title to the land, signed by the Almighty.

He tells me that, being a land-animal as well as I, he has an equal right of access to the earth. He assures me that the desirability of my land is due to the presence of the community, and that the benefits received and contributed by the new settlers are co-equal. He secures the passage of a law confiscating all ground rent, and thus begins where I leave off after the isolation, dangers and trials of half a lifetime.

That land values do not yield an average return of 3 per cent will appear on a moment's consideration. For various reasons land is the form of investment most popular with the people. It is usually considered safest, and the veriest tyro in economics knows that investment considered safest yields the smallest increment. Thus, government can borrow money at 2 %, and great corporations at 3 and 4, while private inaividuals must pay from 5 to 15. A certain dignity and additional political privileges pertain to landownership. You can sell a man land that has not budged a peg in value for 50 years, and which he knows will not yield him 3 per cent above his taxes, when you cannot borrow his money on giltedge security at 6. Banks may break, merchants fail, corporations collapse and government be subverted, but the land is always in evidence. It can neither burn up nor blow away.

But the earliest economists noted that land owners were content with smaller returns than any other class of investors. The great financiers have ever considered the soil as the poorest possible investment. The mortgage companies do not want land. When they chip a segment of the earth's surface from under you in lieu of money loaned, they throw it on the market. Were the landlord the chief of robbers, they would gobble up all the realty they could get. The great money lords will buy bonds at 2% to 3 per cent, when in every state hard-pressed landlords are offering to sell at a sacrifice. If the man who wants the use of land, whether to plant hogs or grow a business block, will lease and loan his money, will pay rent and draw interest-he will save it five times in six. You can get at least 6 per cent for your money and doage taxation, while not one acre in a dozen nets the owner so much.

The three factors in the production of wealth are land, labor and capital. The latter may properly be classed as a factor, as without it man is reduced to primitive methods of production. The landlord increases in wealth but slowly, labor is often on the verge of starvation; but the capitalist is able to give Bradley-Martin balls and buy dukes for his daughters. This argues that he despoils the other two factors of production. How does he do this? Much


« PreviousContinue »