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speculation in land. I said that when the opportunity presented itself I wished to make an investigation and get some first-hand information. I had a little spare time a few weeks ago and went to Alberta and made an investigation of conditions there.
Before discussing what I found, I want to go into this phase of single tax. There are two kinds of single tax. There is complete single tax, which is nothing more nor less than a form of socialism. That is to say, complete single tax has for its purpose the taking of all the income from land and giving it to the state. Now the value of anything is its capitalized income. When you take all of the income from property you are taking all of the capital or value. Therefore, complete single tax is communal ownership in land, or the destroying of private ownership in land. This phase of it I do not wish to discuss. I am sure that it is not necessary for me to argue against this phase of single tax. We have never considered it in Oregon. It has never been agitated here. The farmers of Oregon know that their land is good and they do not want to give it to the state. We want to keep it; it is good stuff-the best there is anywhere; we are proud to possess some of it.
Single tax limited is that system of taxation which raises public revenue from land alone—the land value tax-taking as much of the income from land as is necessary to run the government. The rest of the income the owner is permitted to keep. Complete single tax is not a system of taxation; it is a system of socialism. Single tax limited is advanced as a system of taxation and therefore we must consider it as such.
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating," and the best argument against single tax limited that can be used is the result which it brought about in Alberta. I honestly and confidently believe-yes, I positively know beyond the shadow of a doubt-that limited single tax as they have it in Alberta has been an absolute, complete, unqualified failure as a taxing system.
Although I have not the time to give you a detailed account as to the manner of raising public revenue in Alberta, in order that you may understand the difference between the raising of revenue there and on this side of the line I will say that in Alberta the money which the province of Alberta expends is nine million dollars annually. In the state of Oregon, with three times the population, we only raise seven million dollars annually. I do not mean to convey the impression that the public officials of Alberta waste her provincial funds, but that these funds are used for other purposes than we of Oregon use our state funds. The only tax levied on land in Alberta is a tax for municipal purposes. The revenue for the provincial government in all its branches, as well as the road and much of the school tax, is raised by indirect taxation, subsidy from the dominion government and license fees. To illustrate: In the state of Oregon the average tax levy in municipalities is about thirty mills. Of that thirty mills, six mills is for the purpose of running the city government; the other twenty-four mills is for state, county, school, roads and other purposes. In Alberta the tax for municipal purposes, that is to say, the tax which corresponds to the six mills tax just referred to, is raised by direct taxation and it is the only portion of their taxing system which is raised by a single tax upon land values. Therefore in Alberta they have what we might properly term a very limited form of single tax limited. Under what is known as the “towns act” the legislature foisted single tax on the small towns—that is, single tax for municipal purposes, you understand. The result
was that a sufficient amount of revenue could not be raised. The functions of municipal government were paralyzed. That is the reason that single tax failed in Alberta. That is the reason that single tax will fail everywhere. Like other socialistic principles, it is beautiful in theory, but a pitiful failure in practice.
The reason for the failure of the limited form of single tax limited as adopted by Alberta is not hard to understand. If an uneducated Oregonian farmer like myself could discover the reason for this failure it surely should be apparent to such profound students of economics as our single tax friends.
In these little towns the land produces but little income. Most all of the income is produced from merchandise stocks and improvements on land. Even a farmer knows that if merchandise stocks and improvements on land produce much revenue they can afford to pay much taxes and if land produces little revenue it can afford to pay but little taxes. Even a farmer knows that when you come to exempt from taxation those classes of property which produce the biggest income, and place all the taxes upon that one class of property which produces the least income then something going to pop. And, something popped in Alberta. You can take it from me that things were popping until they adopted a different system of taxation which relieved land from bearing all the burden of municipal public expense.
Now, let's see what was the first immediate effect. First, we find them putting up their assessed valuations higher and higher, in some cases placing them four or five times as high as the actual cash values of these lands. Next they reach out into the country and bring in the surrounding property and include it within the corporate limits of the various municipalities. Next we find that the land will not produce a sufficient revenue to pay the taxes and the taxes become delinquent and the land is confiscated by the state. Then we find that the municipal treasury is depleted. The city officers cannot be paid, no public improvements can be made, there is no fire protection and the municipal government is prost rated. Then we find them in the last stage changing their system of taxation and relieving land from bearing the whole of the burden of public expenditure. Now I do not wish to convey the impression that I found barefooted children upon the streets and babies crying for bread. The fact that I wish to bring out clearly is that so far as being a revenue-producing system, single tax has absolutely failed in Alberta.
The remarks which I have just made refer to the conditions as I found them in the small towns which are under the supervision of the burear of municipalities. Now, let us look at the conditions of the larger towns which have special charters. Edmonton has almost a complete form of single tax for municipal purposes. It is a city of 57,000 inhabitants. I found that the land values there were $187,500,000. The land values of King County, including Seattle, are but $130,000,000. This shows that in order to raise their revenues it was necessary to place the land values at Edmonton at a figure far in excess of their true value. Think of it, a town of 57,000 population with assessed values of land of $187,500,000, while the assessed land values of all of King County are but $130,000,000. I found that the value of the land which this year is confiscated to the state for non-payment of taxes in Edmonton is $1,200,000. In all of King County the value of the land which reverts to the state this year through non-payment of taxes is less than $4,000. You understand I do not mean the value of the land upon which the taxes have been permitted to
become delinquent in either case. In both cases I refer to the value of the land which has reverted to the state because the five years period of redemption has expired. Do you realize what these figures mean? In Alberta, a town of 57,000 thousand people, $1,200,000 worth of property is confiscated to the state this year, while in all of King County, including Seattle and smaller towns around the bay, there is less than $4,000 worth of property going back for non-payment of taxes.
In Calgary they have a milder form of single tax. There they tax personal property, that is, merchandise, stocks, etc., at 66°/3 per cent of its value. They also tax improvements on land at 25 per cent of their value. Calgary is 50 per cent larger than Edmonton. We therefore would expect that the total of its land assessments would be 50 per cent greater than those of Edmonton. But are they? No! They are less. They are but $120,000,000. That is, $67,500,000 less than in their sister city of 50 per cent less population. And why? Simply because they have more kinds of property to tax. I also found in Calgary that less than one-third as much land had been confiscated to the state for non-payment of taxes. Therefore we find that the nearer we approach single tax the higher are the assessed valuations and the greater the amount of land which is confiscated to the state.
His Satire: "The Man With Forty Crowns," that Caused France to
Repudiate Single Tax in the Seventeenth-Century. (Condensed translation from "Essays on Taxation," by E. R. A. Seligman,
Columbia University.) Voltaire pictured the position of the French peasant toiling laboriously, amid conditions of unspeakable distress, but succeeding in getting from the soil a product equivalent to forty crowns. The tax-gatherer comes along, finds that the peasant can manage to keep boay and soul together on twenty crowns, and takes away the other twenty. Then the peasant meets an old acquaintance, originally poor, who has been left a fortune of 400,000 crowns a year
and securities. He rolls along the highway in a six-horse chariot, with six lackeys, each with double the peasant's income; his maitre d'hotel gets 2,000 crowns salary and steals 20,000; his mistress costs 80,000 crowns a year. "You pay, of course, half your income, 200,000 crowns, to the state?” asked the peasant. “You are joking, my friend," answered he, “I am no landed proprietor like you. The taxgatherer would be an imbecile to assess me; for everything I have comes ultimately from the land and somebody has paid the tax already. To make me pay would be intolerable, double taxation. Ta-ta, my friend; you just pay your single tax, enjoy in peace your clear income of twenty crowns; serve your country well, and come once in a while to take dinner with my lackey. Yes, yes, the single tax, it is a glorious thing!"