Rent is for the Entire Community
An Open Letter to Mikhail Gorbachev (1990), signed by 30 economists
Henry George: The Common Sense of Taxation (1881
To consider the nature of property of this kind is again to see a clear
distinction. That distinction is not, as the lawyers have it, between movables
and immovables, between personal property and real estate. The true distinction
is between property which is, and property which is not, the result of human
labor; or, to use the terms of political economy, between land and wealth.
For, in any precise use of the term, land is not wealth, any more than labor
is wealth. Land and labor are the factors of production. Wealth is such result
of their union as retains the capacity of ministering to human desire. A
lot and the house which stands upon it are alike property, alike have a tangible
value, and are alike classed as real estate. But there are between them the
most essential differences. The one is the free gift of Nature, the other
the result of human exertion; the one exists from generation to generation,
while men come and go; the other is constantly tending to decay, and can
only be preserved by continual exertion. To the one, the right of exclusive
possession, which makes it individual property, can, like the right of property
in slaves, be traced to nothing but municipal law; to the other, the right
of exclusive property springs clearly from those natural relations which
are among the primary perceptions of the human mind. Nor are these mere abstract
distinctions. They are distinctions of the first importance in determining
what should and what should not be taxed.
For, keeping in mind the fact that all wealth is the result of human exertion,
it is clearly seen that, having in view the promotion of the general prosperity, it
is the height of absurdity to tax wealth for purposes of revenue while there
remains, unexhausted by taxation, any value attaching to land. We may tax
land values as much as we please, without in the slightest degree lessening
the amount of land, or the capabilities of land, or the inducement to use
land. But we cannot tax wealth without lessening the inducement
to the production of wealth, and decreasing the amount of wealth. We
might take the whole value of land in taxation, so as to make the ownership
of land worth nothing, and the land would still remain, and be as useful
as before. The effect would be to throw land open to users free
of price, and thus to increase its capabilities, which are brought out by
increased population. But impose anything like such taxation upon wealth,
and the inducement to the production of wealth would be gone. Movable wealth
would be hidden or carried off, immovable wealth would be suffered to go
to decay, and where was prosperity would soon be the silence of desolation.
And the reason of this difference is clear. The possession of wealth is
the inducement to the exertion necessary to the production and maintenance
of wealth. Men do not work for the pleasure of working, but to get the things
their work will give them. And to tax the things that are produced by exertion
is to lessen the inducement to exertion. But over and above the benefit to
the possessor, which is the stimulating motive to the production of wealth,
there is a benefit to the community, for no matter how selfish he may be,
it is utterly impossible for any one to entirely keep to himself the benefit
of any desirable thing he may possess. These diffused benefits when localized
give value to land, and this may be taxed without in any wise diminishing
the incentive to production.
To illustrate: A man builds a fine house or large factory in a poorly improved
neighborhood. To tax this building and its adjuncts is to make him pay for
his enterprise and expenditure — to take from him part of his natural
reward. But the improvement thus made has given new beauty or life to the
neighborhood, making it a more desirable place than before for the erection
of other houses or factories, and additional value is given to land all about.
Now to tax improvements is not only to deprive of his proper reward the man
who has made the improvement, but it is to deter others from making similar
improvements. But, instead of taxing improvements, to tax these land values
is to leave the natural inducement to further improvement in full force,
and at the same time to keep down an obstacle to further improvement, which,
under the present system, improvement itself tends to raise. For the advance
of land values which follows improvement, and even the expectation of improvement,
makes further improvement more costly.
See how unjust and short-sighted is this system. Here is a man who, gathering
what little capital he can, and taking his family, starts West to find a
place where he can make himself a home. He must travel long distances; for,
though he will pass plenty of land nobody is using, it is held at prices
too high for him. Finally he will go no further, and selects a place where,
since the creation of the world, the soil, so far as we know, has never felt
a plowshare. But here, too, in nine cases out of ten, he will find the speculator
has been ahead of him, for the speculator moves quicker, and has superior
means of information to the emigrant. Before he can put this land
to the use for which nature intended it, and to which it is for the general
good that it should be put, he must make terms with some man who in all probability
never saw the land, and never dreamed of using it, and who, it may be, resides
in some city, thousands of miles away. In order to get permission
to use this land, he must give up a large part of the little capital which
is seed-wheat to him, and perhaps in addition mortgage his future labor for
years. Still he goes to work: he works himself, and his wife works, and his
children work — work like horses, and live in the hardest and dreariest
manner. Such a man deserves encouragement, not discouragement; but on him
taxation falls with peculiar severity. Almost everything that he has to buy — groceries,
clothing, tools — is largely raised in price by a system of tariff
taxation which cannot add to the price of the grain or hogs or cattle that
he has to sell. And when the assessor comes around he is taxed on the improvements
he has made, although these improvements have added not only to the value
of surrounding land, but even to the value of land in distant commercial
centers. Not merely this, but, as a general rule, his land, irrespective
of the improvements, will be assessed at a higher rate than unimproved land
around it, on the ground that "productive property" ought to pay
more than "unproductive property" — a principle just the
reverse of the correct one, for the man who makes land productive adds to
the general prosperity, while the man who keeps land unproductive stands
in the way of the general prosperity, is but a dog-in-the-manger, who prevents
others from using what he will not use himself.
Or, take the case of the railroads. That railroads are a public benefit
no one will dispute. We want more railroads, and want them to reduce their
fares and freight. Why then should we tax them? for taxes upon railroads
deter from railroad building, and compel higher charges. Instead of taxing
the railroads, is it not clear that we should rather tax the increased value
which they give to land? To tax railroads is to check railroad building,
to reduce profits, and compel higher rates; to tax the value they give to
land is to increase railroad business and permit lower rates. The elevated
railroads, for instance, have opened to the overcrowded population of New
York the wide, vacant spaces of the upper part of the island. But this great
public benefit is neutralized by the rise in land values. Because these vacant
lots can be reached more cheaply and quickly, their owners demand more for
them, and so the public gain in one way is offset in another, while the roads
lose the business they would get were not building checked by the high prices
demanded for lots. The increase of land values, which the elevated roads
have caused, is not merely no advantage to them — it is an injury;
and it is clearly a public injury. The elevated railroads ought not to be
taxed. The more profit they make, with the better conscience can they be
asked to still further reduce fares. It is the increased land values which
they have created that ought to be taxed, for taxing them will give the public
the full benefit of cheap fares.
So with railroads everywhere. And so not alone with railroads, but with
all industrial enterprises. So long as we consider that community most prosperous
which increases most rapidly in wealth, so long is it the height of absurdity
for us to tax wealth in any of its beneficial forms. We should tax
what we want to repress, not what we want to encourage. We should tax that
which results from the general prosperity, not that which conduces to it.
It is the increase of population, the extension of cultivation, the manufacture
of goods, the building of houses and ships and railroads, the accumulation
of capital, and the growth of commerce that add to the value of land — not
the increase in the value of land that induces the increase of population
and increase of wealth. It is not that the land of Manhattan Island
is now worth hundreds of millions where, in the time of the early Dutch settlers,
it was only worth dollars, that there are on it now so many more people,
and so much more wealth. It is because of the increase of population and
the increase of wealth that the value of the land has so much increased. Increase
of land values tends of itself to repel population and prevent improvement.
And thus the taxation of land values, unlike taxation of other property,
does not tend to prevent the increase of wealth, but rather to stimulate
it. It is the taking of the golden egg, not the choking of the goose that
Every consideration of policy and ethics squares with this conclusion.
The tax upon land values is the most economically perfect of all taxes. It
does not raise prices; it maybe collected at least cost, and with the utmost
ease and certainty; it leaves in full strength all the springs of production;
and, above all, it consorts with the truest equality and the highest justice. For,
to take for the common purposes of the community that value which results
from the growth of the community, and to free industry and enterprise and
thrift from burden and restraint, is to leave to each that which he fairly
earns, and to assert the first and most comprehensive of equal rights — the
equal right of all to the land on which, and from which, all must live.
Thus it is that the scheme of taxation which conduces to the greatest production
is also that which conduces to the fairest distribution, and that in the
proper adjustment of taxation lies not merely the possibility of enormously
increasing the general wealth, but the solution of these pressing social
and political problems which spring from unnatural inequality in the distribution
"There is," says M. de Laveleye, in concluding that work in which
he shows that the first perceptions of mankind have everywhere recognized
a most vital distinction between property in land and property which results
from labor, — "there is in human affairs one system which is the
best; it is not that system which always exists, otherwise why should we
desire to change it; but it is that system which should exist for the greatest
good of humanity. God knows it, and wills it; man's duty it is to discover
and establish it." ... read the
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty:
10. Effect of Remedy Upon Wealth Production (in the unabridged P&P: Part
IX — Effects of the Remedy: Chapter 1 — Of the effect upon the
production of wealth)
The elder Mirabeau, we are told, ranked the proposition of Quesnay, to substitute
one single tax on rent (the impôt unique) for all other taxes,
as a discovery equal in utility to the invention of writing or the substitution
of the use of money for barter.
To whosoever will think over the matter, this saying will appear an evidence
of penetration rather than of extravagance. The advantages which would be
gained by substituting for the numerous taxes by which the public revenues
are now raised, a single tax levied upon the value of land, will appear more
and more important the more they are considered. ...
Consider the effect upon the production of wealth.
To abolish the taxation which, acting and reacting, now hampers every wheel
of exchange and presses upon every form of industry, would be like removing
an immense weight from a powerful spring. Imbued with fresh energy, production
would start into new life, and trade would receive a stimulus which would
be felt to the remotest arteries. The present method of taxation operates
upon exchange like artificial deserts and mountains;
- it costs more to get goods through a custom house than it does to carry
them around the world.
- It operates upon energy, and industry, and skill, and thrift, like a
fine upon those qualities.
- If I have worked harder and built myself a good house while you have
been contented to live in a hovel, the taxgatherer now comes annually to
make me pay a penalty for my energy and industry, by taxing me more than
- If I have saved while you wasted, I am mulct, while you are exempt.
- If a man build a ship we make him pay for his temerity, as though he
had done an injury to the state;
- if a railroad be opened, down comes the tax collector upon it, as though
it were a public nuisance;
- if a manufactory be erected we levy upon it an annual sum which would
go far toward making a handsome profit.
- We say we want capital, but if any one accumulate it, or bring it among
us, we charge him for it as though we were giving him a privilege.
- We punish with a tax the man who covers barren fields with ripening
- we fine him who puts up machinery, and him who drains a swamp.
How heavily these taxes burden production only those realize who have attempted
to follow our system of taxation through its ramifications, for, as I have
before said, the heaviest part of taxation is that which falls in increased
To abolish these taxes would be to lift the whole enormous weight of taxation
from productive industry. The needle of the seamstress and the great manufactory;
the cart horse and the locomotive; the fishing boat and the steamship; the
farmer's plow and the merchant's stock, would be alike untaxed. All would
be free to make or to save, to buy or to sell, unfined by taxes, unannoyed
by the taxgatherer. Instead of saying to the producer, as it does now, "The
more you add to the general wealth the more shall you be taxed!" the
state would say to the producer, "Be as industrious, as thrifty, as
enterprising as you choose, you shall have your full reward! You shall not
be fined for making two blades of grass grow where one grew before; you shall
not be taxed for adding to the aggregate wealth."
And will not the community gain by thus refusing to kill the goose that
lays the golden eggs; by thus refraining from muzzling the ox that treadeth
out the corn; by thus leaving to industry, and thrift, and skill, their natural
reward, full and unimpaired? For there is to the community also a natural
reward. The law of society is, each for all, as well as all for each. No
one can keep to himself the good he may do, any more than he can keep the
bad. Every productive enterprise, besides its return to those who undertake
it, yields collateral advantages to others. If a man plant a fruit tree,
his gain is that he gathers the fruit in its time and season. But in addition
to his gain, there is a gain to the whole community. Others than the owner
are benefited by the increased supply of fruit; the birds which it shelters
fly far and wide; the rain which it helps to attract falls not alone on his
field; and, even to the eye which rests upon it from a distance, it brings
a sense of beauty. And so with everything else. The building of a house,
a factory, a ship, or a railroad, benefits others besides those who get the
Well may the community leave to the individual producer all that prompts
him to exertion; well may it let the laborer have the full reward of his
labor, and the capitalist the full return of his capital. For the more that
labor and capital produce, the greater grows the common wealth in which all
may share. And in the value or rent of land is this general gain expressed
in a definite and concrete form. Here is a fund which the state may take
while leaving to labor and capital their full reward. With increased activity
of production this would commensurately increase.
And to shift the burden of taxation from production and exchange to the
value or rent of land would not merely be to give new stimulus to the production
of wealth; it would be to open new opportunities. For under this system no
one would care to hold land unless to use it, and land now withheld from
use would everywhere be thrown open to improvement. ... read
the whole chapter
H.G. Brown: Significant
Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty:
11 Effect of Remedy Upon the Sharing of Wealth (in the unabridged P&P: Part
IX Effects of the Remedy — Chapter 2: Of the Effect Upon Distribution
and Thence Upon Production
But great as they thus appear, the advantages of a transference of all public
burdens to a tax upon the value of land cannot be fully appreciated until
we consider the effect upon the distribution of wealth.
Tracing out the cause of the unequal distribution of wealth which appears
in all civilized countries, with a constant tendency to greater and greater
inequality as material progress goes on, we have found it in the fact that,
as civilization advances, the ownership of land, now in private hands, gives
a greater and greater power of appropriating the wealth produced by labor
Thus, to relieve labor and capital from all taxation, direct and indirect,
and to throw the burden upon rent, would be, as far as it went, to counteract
this tendency to inequality, and, if it went so far as to take in taxation
the whole of rent, the cause of inequality would be totally destroyed. Rent,
instead of causing inequality, as now, would then promote equality. Labor
and capital would then receive the whole produce, minus that portion taken
by the state in the taxation of land values, which, being applied to public
purposes, would be equally distributed in public benefits.
That is to say, the wealth produced in every community would be divided
into two portions.
- One part would be distributed in wages and interest between individual
producers, according to the part each had taken in the work of production;
- the other part would go to the community as a whole, to be distributed
in public benefits to all its members.
In this all would share equally — the weak with the strong, young
children and decrepit old men, the maimed, the halt, and the blind, as well
as the vigorous. And justly so — for while one part represents the
result of individual effort in production, the other represents the increased
power with which the community as a whole aids the individual.
Thus, as material progress tends to increase rent, were rent taken by the
community for common purposes the very cause which now tends to produce inequality
as material progress goes on would then tend to produce greater and greater
equality. ... read the whole
Henry George: The Single Tax: What It Is and Why We Urge
Think about what the value of land is.
It has no reference to the cost of production, as has the value of houses,
horses, ships, clothes, or other things produced by labor, for land is not
produced by man, it was created by God. The value of land does not come from
the exertion of labor on land, for the value thus produced is a value of
improvement. That value attaches to any piece of land means that that piece
of land is more desirable than the land which other citizens may obtain,
and that they are willing to pay a premium for permission to use it. Justice
therefore requires that this premium of value shall be taken for the benefit
of all in order to secure to all their equal rights.
difference between the value of a building and the value of land. The
value of a building, like the value of goods, or of anything properly styled
wealth, is produced by individual exertion, and therefore properly belongs
to the individual; but the value of land only arises with the growth and
improvement of the community, and therefore properly belongs to the community. It is not because of what its owners have done, but
because of the presence of the whole great population, that land in New
York is worth millions an acre. This value therefore is the proper fund
for defraying the common expenses of the whole population; and it must
be taken for public use, under penalty of generating land speculation and
monopoly which will bring about artificial scarcity where the Creator has
provided in abundance for all whom His providence has called into existence.
It is thus a violation of justice to tax
labor, or the things produced by labor, and it is also a violation of justice
not to tax land values. ... read the whole article
Rev. A. C. Auchmuty: Gems from George, a
themed collection of
excerpts from the writings of Henry George (with links to sources)
THE tax upon land values is the most just and equal of all taxes. It falls only
upon those who receive from society a peculiar and valuable benefit, and upon
them in proportion to the benefit they receive. It is the taking by the community,
for the use of the community, of that value which is the creation of the community.
It is the application of the common property to common uses. When all rent
is taken by taxation for the needs of the community, then will the equality
ordained by nature be attained. No citizen will have an advantage over any
other citizen save as is given by his industry, skill, and intelligence; and
each will obtain what he fairly earns. Then, but not till then, will labor
get its full reward, and capital its natural return. — Progress & Poverty — Book
VIII, Chapter 3, Application of the Remedy: The Proposition Tried by the Canons
HERE is a provision made by natural law for the increasing needs of social growth;
here is an adaptation of nature by virtue of which the natural progress of society
is a progress toward equality not toward inequality; a centripetal force tending
to unity growing out of and ever balancing a centrifugal force tending to diversity.
Here is a fund belonging to society as a whole, from which without the degradation
of alms, private or public, provision can be made for the weak, the helpless,
the aged; from which provision can be made for the common wants of all as a matter
of common right to each. — Social
Problems — Chapter
19, The First Great Reform
NOT only do all economic considerations point to a tax on land values as
the proper source of public revenues; but so do all British traditions. A
land tax of four shillings in the pound of rental value is still nominally
enforced in England, but being levied on a valuation made in the reign of
William III, it amounts in reality to not much over a penny in the pound.
With the abolition of indirect taxation this is the tax to which men would
naturally turn. The resistance of landholders would bring up the question
of title, and thus any movement which went so far as to propose the substitution
of direct for indirect taxation must inevitably end in a demand for the restoration
to the British people of their birthright. — Protection or Free
Trade— Chapter 27: The Lion in the Way - econlib
THE feudal system, which is not peculiar to Europe but seems to be the natural
result of the conquest of a settled country by a race among whom equality and
individuality are yet strong, clearly recognized, in theory at least, that
the land belongs to society at large, not to the individual. Rude outcome of
an age in which might stood for right as nearly as it ever can (for the idea
of right is ineradicable from the human mind, and must in some shape show itself
even in the association of pirates and robbers), the feudal system yet admitted
in no one the uncontrolled and exclusive right to land. A fief was essentially
a a trust, and to enjoyment was annexed obligation. The sovereign, theoretically
the representative of the collective power and rights of the whole people,
was in feudal view the only absolute owner of land. And though land was granted
to individual possession, yet in its possession were involved duties, by which
the enjoyer of its revenues was supposed to render back to the commonwealth
an equivalent for the benefits which from the delegation of the common right
he received. — Progress &Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 4, Justice of the Remedy: Private Property in Land Historically
THE abolition of the military tenures in England by the Long Parliament,
ratified after the accession of Charles II, though simply an appropriation
of public revenues by the feudal landowners, who thus got rid of the consideration
on which they held the common property of the nation, and saddled it on the
people at large in the taxation of all consumers, has been long characterized,
and is still held up in the law books, as a triumph of the spirit of freedom.
Yet here is the source of the immense debt and heavy taxation of England.
Had the form of these feudal dues been simply changed into one better adapted
to the changed times, English wars need never have occasioned the incurring
of debt to the amount of a single pound, and the labor and capital of England
need not have been taxed a single farthing for the maintenance of a military
establishment. All this would have come from rent, which the landholders
since that time have appropriated to themselves — from the tax which
land ownership levies on the earnings of labor and capital. The landholders
of England got their land on terms which required them even in the sparse
population of Norman days to put in the field, upon call, sixty thousand
perfectly equipped horsemen, and on the further condition of various fines
and incidents which amounted to a considerable part of the rent. It would
probably be a low estimate to put the pecuniary value of these various services
and dues at one-half the rental value of the land. Had the landholders been
kept to this contract and no land been permitted to be inclosed except upon
similar terms, the income accruing to the nation from English land would
today be greater by many millions than the entire public revenues of the
United Kingdom. England today might have enjoyed absolute free trade. There
need not have been a customs duty, an excise, license or income tax, yet
all the present expenditures could be met, and a large surplus remain to
be devoted to any purpose which would conduce to the comfort or well-being
of the whole people. — Progress &Poverty — Book
VII, Chapter 4, Justice of the Remedy: Private Property in Land Historically
... go to "Gems from George"
Thomas Flavin, writing in The
Now, it is quite true that all taxes of whatever nature are paid out of
the products of labor. But must they be for that reason a tax on labor products.
Let us see.
I suppose you won't deny that a unit of labor applies to different kinds
of land will give very different results. Suppose that a unit of labor produces
on A's land 4, on B's 3, on C's 2 and on D's 1. A's land is the most, and
D's is the least, productive land in use in the community to which they belong.
B's and C's represent intermediate grades. Suppose each occupies the best
land that was open to him when he entered into possession. Now, B, and C,
and D have just as good a right to the use of the best land as A had.
Manifestly then, if this be the whole story, there cannot be equality of
opportunity where a unit of labor produces such different results, all other
things being equal except the land.
How is this equality to be secured? There is but one possible way. Each
must surrender for the common use of all, himself included, whatever advantages
accrues to him from the possession of land superior to that which falls to
the lot of him who occupies the poorest.
In the case stated, what the unit of labor produces for D, is what it should
produce for A, B and C, if these are not to have an advantage of natural
opportunity over D.
Hence equity is secured when A pays 3, B, 2 and C, 1 into a common fund
for the common use of all — to be expended, say in digging a well,
making a road or bridge, building a school, or other public utility.
Is it not manifest that here the tax which A, B and C pay into a common
fund, and from which D is exempt, is not a tax on their labor products (though
paid out of them) but a tax on the superior advantage which they enjoy over
D, and to which D has just as good a right as any of them.
The result of this arrangement is that each takes up as much of the best
land open to him as he can put to gainful use, and what he cannot so use
he leaves open for the next. Moreover, he is at no disadvantage with the
rest who have come in ahead of him, for they provide for him, in proportion
to their respective advantages, those public utilities which invariably arise
wherever men live in communities. Of course he will in turn hold to those
who come later the same relation that those who came earlier held to him.
Suppose now that taxes had been levied on labor products instead of land;
all that any land-holder would have to do to avoid the tax is to produce
little or nothing. He could just squat on his land, neither using it himself
nor letting others use it, but he would not stop at this, for he would grab
to the last acre all that he could possibly get hold of. Each of the others
would do the same in turn, with the sure result that by and by, E, F and
G would find no land left for them on which they might make a living.
So they would have to hire their labor to those who had already monopolized
the land, or else buy or rent a piece of land from them. Behold now the devil
of landlordism getting his hoof on God's handiwork! Exit justice, freedom,
social peace and plenty. Enter robbery, slavery, social discontent, consuming
grief, riotous but unearned wealth, degrading pauperism, crime breeding,
want, the beggar's whine, and the tyrant's iron heel.
And how did it all come about? By the simple expedient of taxing labor products
in order that precious landlordism might laugh and grow fat on the bovine
stupidity of the community that contributes its own land values toward its
And yet men vacuously ask, "What difference does it make?"
O tempora! O mores! To be as plain as is necessary, it makes this four-fold
- First, it robs the community of its land values;
- second, it robs labor of its wages in the name of taxation;
- third, it sustains and fosters landlordism, a most conspicuously damnable
- fourth, it exhibits willing workers in enforced idleness; beholding their
families in want on the one hand, and unused land that would yield them
abundance on the other.
This last is a difference that cries to heaven for vengeance, and if it
does not always cry in vain, will W. C. Brann be able to draw his robe close
around him and with a good conscience exclaim, "It's none of my fault;
I am not my brother's keeper."
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's
Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894)
3. THE SINGLE TAX FALLS IN PROPORTION TO BENEFITS
To perceive that the single tax would justly measure the value of government
service we have only to realize that the mass of individuals everywhere and now,
in paying for the land they use, actually pay for government service in proportion
to what they receive. He who would enjoy the benefits of a government must use
land within its jurisdiction. He cannot carry land from where government is poor
to where it is good; neither can he carry it from where the benefits of good
government are few or enjoyed with difficulty to where they are many and fully
enjoyed. He must rent or buy land where the benefits of government are available,
or forego them. And unless he buys or rents where they are greatest and most
available he must forego them in degree. Consequently, if he would work or live
where the benefits of government are available, and does not already own land
there, he will be compelled to rent or buy at a valuation which, other things
being equal, will depend upon the value of the government service that the site
he selects enables him to enjoy. 14 Thus does he pay for the service of government
in proportion to its value to him. But he does not pay the public which provides
the service; he is required to pay land-owners.
14. Land values are lower in all countries of poor government
than in any country of better government, other things being equal. They
are lower in cities of poor government, other things being equal, than
in cities of better government. Land values are lower, for example, in
Juarez, on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, where government is bad,
than in El Paso, the neighboring city on the American side, where government
is better. They are lower in the same city under bad government than
under improved government. When Seth Low, after a reform campaign, was
elected mayor of Brooklyn, N.Y., rents advanced before he took the oath
of office, upon the bare expectation that he would eradicate municipal
abuses. Let the city authorities anywhere pave a street, put water through
it and sewer it, or do any of these things, and lots in the neighborhood
rise in value. Everywhere that the "good roads" agitation of
wheel men has borne fruit in better highways, the value of adjacent land
has increased. Instances of this effect as results of public improvements
might be collected in abundance. Every man must be able to recall some
within his own experience.
And it is perfectly reasonable that it should be so.
Land and not other property must rise in value with desired improvements
in government, because, while any tendency on the part of other kinds
of property to rise in value is checked by greater production, land can
not be reproduced.
Imagine an utterly lawless place, where life and property
are constantly threatened by desperadoes. He must be either a very bold
man or a very avaricious one who will build a store in such a community
and stock it with goods; but suppose such a man should appear. His store
costs him more than the same building would cost in a civilized community;
mechanics are not plentiful in such a place, and materials are hard to
get. The building is finally erected, however, and stocked. And now what
about this merchant's prices for goods? Competition is weak, because
there are few men who will take the chances he has taken, and he charges
all that his customers will pay. A hundred per cent, five hundred per
cent, perhaps one or two thousand per cent profit rewards him for his
pains and risk. His goods are dear, enormously dear — dear enough
to satisfy the most contemptuous enemy of cheapness; and if any one should
wish to buy his store that would be dear too, for the difficulties in
the way of building continue. But land is cheap! This is the
type of community in which may be found that land, so often mentioned
and so seldom seen, which "the owners actually can't give away,
But suppose that government improves. An efficient administration
of justice rids the place of desperadoes, and life and property are safe.
What about prices then? It would no longer require a bold or desperately
avaricious man to engage in selling goods in that community, and competition
would set in. High profits would soon come down. Goods would be cheap — as
cheap as anywhere in the world, the cost of transportation considered.
Builders and building materials could be had without difficulty, and
stores would be cheap, too. But land would be dear! Improvement
in government increases the value of that, and of that alone.
Now, the economic principle pursuant to which land-owners are thus able
to charge their fellow-citizens for the common benefits of their common government
points to the true method of taxation. With the exception of such other monopoly
property as is analogous to land titles, and which in the purview of the
single tax is included with land for purposes of taxation, 15 land is the
only kind of property that is increased in value by government; and the increase
of value is in proportion, other influences aside, to the public service
which its possession secures to the occupant. Therefore, by taxing land in
proportion to its value, and exempting all other property, kindred monopolies
excepted — that is to say, by adopting the single tax — we should
be levying taxes according to benefits.16
15. Railroad franchises, for example, are not usually
thought of as land titles, but that is what they are. By an act of sovereign
authority they confer rights of control for transportation purposes over
narrow strips of land between terminals and along trading points. The
value of this right of way is a land value.
16. Each occupant would pay to his landlord the value
of the public benefits in the way of highways, schools, courts, police
and fire protection, etc., that his site enabled him to enjoy. The landlord
would pay a tax proportioned to the pecuniary benefits conferred upon
him by the public in raising and maintaining the value of his holding.
And if occupant and owner were the same, he would pay directly according
to the value of his land for all the public benefits he enjoyed, both
intangible and pecuniary.
And in no sense would this be class taxation. Indeed, the cry of class
taxation is a rather impudent one for owners of valuable land to raise against
the single tax, when it is considered that under existing systems of taxation
they are exempt. 17 Even the poorest and the most degraded classes in the
community, besides paying land-owners for such public benefits as come their
way, are compelled by indirect taxation to contribute to the support of government.
But landowners as a class go free. They enjoy the protection of the courts,
and of police and fire departments, and they have the use of schools and
the benefit of highways and other public improvements, all in common with
the most favored, and upon the same specific terms; yet, though they go through
the form of paying taxes, and if their holdings are of considerable value
pose as "the tax-payers" on all important occasions, they,
in effect and considered as a class, pay no taxes, because government, by
increasing the value of their land, enables them to recover back in higher
rents and higher prices more than their taxes amount to. Enjoying the same
tangible benefits of government that others do, many of them as individuals
and all of them as a class receive in addition a tangible pecuniary benefit
which government confers upon no other property-owners. The value of their
property is enhanced in proportion to the benefits of government which its
occupants enjoy. To tax them alone, therefore, is not to discriminate against
them; it is to charge them for what they get.18
17. While the landholders of the City of Washington were
paying something less than two per cent annually in taxes, a Congressional
Committee (Report of the Select Committee to Investigate Tax Assessments
in the District of Columbia, composed of Messrs. Johnson, of Ohio, Chairman,
Wadsworth, of New York, and Washington, of Tennessee. Made to the House
of Representatives, May 24, 1892. Report No. 1469), brought out
the fact that the value of their land had been increasing at a minimum
rate of ten per cent per annum. The Washington land-owners as a class
thus appear to have received back in higher land values, actually and
potentially, about ten dollars for every two dollars that as land-owners
they paid in taxes. If any one supposes that this condition is peculiar
to Washington let him make similar estimates for any progressive locality,
and see if the land-owners there are not favored in like manner.
But the point is not dependent upon increase in the capitalized
value of land. If the land yields or will yield to its owner an income
in the nature of actual or potential ground rent, then to the extent
that this actual or possible income is dependent upon government the
landlord is in effect exempt from taxation. No matter what tax he pays
on account of his ownership of land, the public gives it back to him
to that extent.
18. Take for illustration two towns, one of excellent
government and the other of inefficient government, but in all other
respects alike. Suppose you are hunting for a place of residence and
find a suitable site in the town of good government. For simplicity of
illustration let us suppose that the land there is not sold outright
but is let upon ground rent. You meet the owner of the lot you have selected
and ask him his terms. He replies:
"Two hundred and fifty dollars a year."
"Two hundred and fifty dollars a year!" you
exclaim. "Why, I can get just as good a site in that other town
for a hundred dollars a year."
"Certainly you can," he will say. "But
if you build a house there and it catches fire it will burn down; they
have no fire department. If you go out after dark you will be 'held up'
and robbed; they have no police force. If you ride out in the spring,
your carriage will stick in the mud up to the hubs, and if you walk you
may break your legs and will be lucky if you don t break your neck; they
have no street pavements and their sidewalks are dangerously out of repair.
When the moon doesn't shine the streets are in darkness, for they have
no street lights. The water you need for your house you must get from
a well; there is no water supply there. Now in our town it is different.
We have a splendid fire department, and the best police force in the
world. Our streets are macadamized, and lighted with electricity; our
sidewalks are always in first class repair; we have a water system that
equals that of New York; and in every way the public benefits in this
town are unsurpassed. It is the best governed town in all this region.
Isn't it worth a hundred and fifty dollars a year more for a building
site here than over in that poorly governed town?"
You recognize the advantages and agree to the terms.
But when your house is built and the assessor visits you officially,
what would be the conversation if your sense of the fitness of things
were not warped by familiarity with false systems of taxation? Would
it not be something like what follows?
"How much do you regard this house as worth? " asks
"What is that to you?" you inquire.
"I am the town assessor and am about to appraise
your property for taxation."
"Am I to be taxed by this town? What for?"
"What for?" echoes the assessor in surprise. "What
for? Is not your house protected from fire by our magnificent fire department?
Are not you protected from robbery by the best police force in the world?
Do not you have the use of macadamized pavements, and good sidewalks,
and electric street lights, and a first class water supply? Don't you
suppose these things cost something? And don't you think you ought to
pay your share?"
"Yes," you answer, with more or less calmness; "I
do have the benefit of these things, and I do think that I ought to pay
my share toward supporting them. But I have already paid my share for
this year. I have paid it to the owner of this lot. He charges me two
hundred and fifty dollars a year -- one hundred and fifty dollars more
than I should pay or he could get but for those very benefits. He has
collected my share of this year's expense of maintaining town improvements;
you go and collect from him. If you do not, but insist upon collecting
from me, I shall be paying twice for these things, once to him and once
to you; and he won't be paying at all, but will be making money out of
them, although he derives the same benefits from them in all other respects
that I do." ...
d. Effect of Confiscating Rent to Private Use.
By giving Rent to individuals society ignores this most just law, 99 thereby
creating social disorder and inviting social disease. Upon society alone,
therefore, and not upon divine Providence which has provided bountifully,
nor upon the disinherited poor, rests the responsibility for poverty and
fear of poverty.
99. "Whatever dispute arouses the passions of men,
the conflict is sure to rage, not so much as to the question 'Is it wise?'
as to the question 'Is it right?'
"This tendency of popular discussions to take an
ethical form has a cause. It springs from a law of the human mind; it
rests upon a vague and instinctive recognition of what is probably the
deepest truth we can grasp. That alone is wise which is just; that alone
is enduring which is right. In the narrow scale of individual actions
and individual life this truth may be often obscured, but in the wider
field of national life it everywhere stands out.
"I bow to this arbitrament, and accept this test." — Progress
and Poverty, book vii, ch. i.
The reader who has been deceived into believing that Mr.
George's proposition is in any respect unjust, will find profit in a
perusal of the entire chapter from which the foregoing extract is taken.
Let us try to trace the connection by means of a chart, beginning with the
white spaces on page 68. As before, the first-comers take possession of the
best land. But instead of leaving for others what they do not themselves
need for use, as in the previous illustrations, they appropriate the whole
space, using only part, but claiming ownership of the rest. We may distinguish
the used part with red color, and that which is appropriated without use
with blue. Thus: [chart]
But what motive is there for appropriating more of the space than is used?
Simply that the appropriators may secure the pecuniary benefit of future
social growth. What will enable them to secure that? Our system of confiscating
Rent from the community that earns it, and giving it to land-owners who,
as such, earn nothing.100
100. It is reported from Iowa that a few years ago a workman
in that State saw a meteorite fall, and. securing possession of it after
much digging, he was offered $105 by a college for his "find." But
the owner of the land on which the meteorite fell claimed the money,
and the two went to law about it. After an appeal to the highest court
of the State, it was finally decided that neither by right of discovery,
nor by right of labor, could the workman have the money, because the
title to the meteorite was in the man who owned the land upon which it
Observe the effect now upon Rent and Wages. When other men come, instead
of finding half of the best land still common and free, as in the corresponding
chart on page 68, they find all of it owned, and are obliged either to go
upon poorer land or to buy or rent from owners of the best. How much will
they pay for the best? Not more than 1, if they want it for use and not to
hold for a higher price in the future, for that represents the full difference
between its productiveness and the productiveness of the next best. But if
the first-comers, reasoning that the next best land will soon be scarce and
theirs will then rise in value, refuse to sell or to rent at that valuation,
the newcomers must resort to land of the second grade, though the best be
as yet only partly used. Consequently land of the first grade commands Rent
before it otherwise would.
As the sellers' price, under these circumstances, is arbitrary it cannot
be stated in the chart; but the buyers' price is limited by the superiority
of the best land over that which can be had for nothing, and the chart may
be made to show it: [chart]
And now, owing to the success of the appropriators of the best land in securing
more than their fellows for the same expenditure of labor force, a rush is
made for unappropriated land. It is not to use it that it is wanted, but
to enable its appropriators to put Rent into their own pockets as soon as
growing demand for land makes it valuable.101 We may, for illustration, suppose
that all the remainder of the second space and the whole of the third are
thus appropriated, and note the effect: [chart]
At this point Rent does not increase nor Wages fall, because there is no
increased demand for land for use. The holding of inferior land for higher
prices, when demand for use is at a standstill, is like owning lots in the
moon — entertaining, perhaps, but not profitable. But let more land
be needed for use, and matters promptly assume a different appearance. The
new labor must either go to the space that yields but 1, or buy or rent from
owners of better grades, or hire out. The effect would be the same in any
case. Nobody for the given expenditure of labor force would get more than
1; the surplus of products would go to landowners as Rent, either directly
in rent payments, or indirectly through lower Wages. Thus: [chart]
101. The text speaks of Rent only as a periodical or continuous
payment — what would be called "ground rent." But actual
or potential Rent may always be, and frequently is, capitalized for the
purpose of selling the right to enjoy it, and it is to selling value
that we usually refer when dealing in land.
Land which has the power of yielding Rent to its owner
will have a selling value, whether it be used or not, and whether Rent
is actually derived from it or not. This selling value will be the capitalization
of its present or prospective power of producing Rent. In fact, much
the larger proportion of laud that has a selling value is wholly or partly
unused, producing no Rent at all, or less than it would if fully used.
This condition is expressed in the chart by the blue color.
"The capitalized value of land is the actuarial 'discounted'
value of all the net incomes which it is likely to afford, allowance
being made on the one hand for all incidental expenses, including those
of collecting the rents, and on the other for its mineral wealth, its
capabilities of development for any kind of business, and its advantages,
material, social, and aesthetic, for the purposes of residence." — Marshall's
Prin., book vi, ch. ix, sec. 9.
"The value of land is commonly expressed as a certain
number of times the current money rental, or in other words, a certain
'number of years' purchase' of that rental; and other things being equal,
it will be the higher the more important these direct gratifications
are, as well as the greater the chance that they and the money income
afforded by the land will rise." — Id., note.
"Value . . . means not utility, not any quality inhering
in the thing itself, but a quality which gives to the possession of a
thing the power of obtaining other things, in return for it or for its
use. . . Value in this sense — the usual sense — is purely
relative. It exists from and is measured by the power of obtaining things
for things by exchanging them. . . Utility is necessary to value, for
nothing can be valuable unless it has the quality of gratifying some
physical or mental desire of man, though it be but a fancy or whim. But
utility of itself does not give value. . . If we ask ourselves the reason
of . . . variations in . . . value . . . we see that things having some
form of utility or desirability, are valuable or not valuable, as they
are hard or easy to get. And if we ask further, we may see that with
most of the things that have value this difficulty or ease of getting
them, which determines value, depends on the amount of labor which must
be expended in producing them ; i.e., bringing them into the place, form
and condition in which they are desired. . . Value is simply an expression
of the labor required for the production of such a thing. But there are
some things as to which this is not so clear. Land is not produced by
labor, yet land, irrespective of any improvements that labor has made
on it, often has value. . . Yet a little examination will show that such
facts are but exemplifications of the general principle, just as the
rise of a balloon and the fall of a stone both exemplify the universal
law of gravitation. . . The value of everything produced by labor, from
a pound of chalk or a paper of pins to the elaborate structure and appurtenances
of a first-class ocean steamer, is resolvable on analysis into an equivalent
of the labor required to produce such a thing in form and place; while
the value of things not produced by labor, but nevertheless susceptible
of ownership, is in the same way resolvable into an equivalent of the
labor which the ownership of such a thing enables the owner to obtain
or save." — Perplexed Philosopher, ch. v.
The figure 1 in parenthesis, as an item of Rent, indicates potential Rent.
Labor would give that much for the privilege of using the space, but the
owners hold out for better terms; therefore neither Rent nor Wages is actually
produced, though but for this both might be.
In this chart, notwithstanding that but little space is used, indicated
with red, Wages are reduced to the same low point by the mere appropriation
of space, indicated with blue, that they would reach if all the space above
the poorest were fully used. It thereby appears that under a system which
confiscates Rent to private uses, the demand for land for speculative purposes
becomes so great that Wages fall to a minimum long before they would if land
were appropriated only for use.
In illustrating the effect of confiscating Rent to private use we have as
yet ignored the element of social growth. Let us now assume as before (page
73), that social growth increases the productive power of the given expenditure
of labor force to 100 when applied to the best land, 50 when applied to the
next best, 10 to the next, 3 to the next, and 1 to the poorest. Labor would
not be benefited now, as it appeared to be when on page 73 we illustrated
the appropriation of land for use only, although much less land is actually
used. The prizes which expectation of future social growth dangles before
men as the rewards of owning land, would raise demand so as to make it more
than ever difficult to get land. All of the fourth grade would be taken up
in expectation of future demand; and "surplus labor" would be crowded
out to the open space that originally yielded nothing, but which in consequence
of increased labor power now yields as much as the poorest closed space originally
yielded, namely, 1 to the given expenditure of labor force.102 Wages would
then be reduced to the present productiveness of the open space. Thus: [chart]
102. The paradise to which the youth of our country have
so long been directed in the advice, "Go West, young man, go West," is
truthfully described in "Progress and Poverty," book iv, ch.
iv, as follows :
"The man who sets out from the eastern seaboard
in search of the margin of cultivation, where he may obtain land without
paying rent, must, like the man who swam the river to get a drink,
pass for long distances through half-titled farms, and traverse vast
areas of virgin soil, before he reaches the point where land can be
had free of rent — i.e., by homestead entry or preemption."
If we assume that 1 for the given expenditure of labor force is the least
that labor can take while exerting the same force, the downward movement
of Wages will be here held in equilibrium. They cannot fall below 1; but
neither can they rise above it, no matter how much productive power may increase,
so long as it pays to hold land for higher values. Some laborers would continually
be pushed back to land which increased productive power would have brought
up in productiveness from 0 to 1, and by perpetual competition for work would
so regulate the labor market that the given expenditure of labor force, however
much it produced, could nowhere secure more than 1 in Wages.103 And this
tendency would persist until some labor was forced upon land which, despite
increase in productive power, would not yield the accustomed living without
increase of labor force. Competition for work would then compel all laborers
to increase their expenditure of labor force, and to do it over and over
again as progress went on and lower and lower grades of land were monopolized,
until human endurance could go no further.104 Either that, or they would
be obliged to adapt themselves to a lower scale of living.105
103. Henry Fawcett, in his work on "Political Economy," book
ii, ch. iii, observes with reference to improvements in agricultural
implements which diminish the expense of cultivation, that they do not
increase the profits of the farmer or the wages of his laborers, but
that "the landlord will receive in addition to the rent already
paid to him, all that is saved in the expense of cultivation." This
is true not alone of improvements in agriculture, but also of improvements
in all other branches of industry.
104. "The cause which limits speculation in commodities,
the tendency of increasing price to draw forth additional supplies, cannot
limit the speculative advance in land values, as land is a fixed quantity,
which human agency can neither increase nor diminish; but there is nevertheless
a limit to the price of land, in the minimum required by labor and capital
as the condition of engaging in production. If it were possible to continuously
reduce wages until zero were reached, it would be possible to continuously
increase rent until it swallowed up the whole produce. But as wages cannot
be permanently reduced below the point at which laborers will consent
to work and reproduce, nor interest below the point at which capital
will be devoted to production, there is a limit which restrains the speculative
advance of rent. Hence, speculation cannot have the same scope to advance
rent in countries where wages and interest are already near the minimum,
as in countries where they are considerably above it. Yet that there
is in all progressive countries a constant tendency in the speculative
advance of rent to overpass the limit where production would cease, is,
I think, shown by recurring seasons of industrial paralysis." — Progress
and Poverty, book iv, ch. iv.
105. As Puck once put it, "the man who makes two
blades of grass to grow where but one grew before, must not be surprised
when ordered to 'keep off the grass.' "
They in fact do both, and the incidental disturbances of general readjustment
are what we call "hard times." 106 These culminate in forcing unused
land into the market, thereby reducing Rent and reviving industry. Thus increase
of labor force, a lowering of the scale of living, and depression of Rent,
co-operate to bring on what we call "good times." But no sooner
do "good times" return than renewed demands for land set in, Rent
rises again, Wages fall again, and "hard times" duly reappear.
The end of every period of "hard times" finds Rent higher and Wages
lower than at the end of the previous period.107
106. "That a speculative advance in rent or land
values invariably precedes each of these seasons of industrial depression
is everywhere clear. That they bear to each other the relation of cause
and effect, is obvious to whoever considers the necessary relation between
land and labor." — Progress and Poverty, book v, ch. i.
107. What are called "good times" reach a point
at which an upward land market sets in. From that point there is a downward
tendency of wages (or a rise in the cost of living, which is the same
thing) in all departments of labor and with all grades of laborers. This
tendency continues until the fictitious values of land give way. So long
as the tendency is felt only by that class which is hired for wages,
it is poverty merely; when the same tendency is felt by the class of
labor that is distinguished as "the business interests of the country," it
is "hard times." And "hard times" are periodical
because land values, by falling, allow "good times " to set
it, and by rising with "good times" bring "hard times" on
again. The effect of "hard times" may be overcome, without
much, if any, fall in land values, by sufficient increase in productive
power to overtake the fictitious value of land.
The dishonest and disorderly system under which society confiscates Rent
from common to individual uses, produces this result. That maladjustment
is the fundamental cause of poverty. And progress, so long as the maladjustment
continues, instead of tending to remove poverty as naturally it should, actually
generates and intensifies it. Poverty persists with increase of productive
power because land values, when Rent is privately appropriated, tend to even
greater increase. There can be but one outcome if this continues: for individuals
suffering and degradation, and for society destruction.
c. Significance of the Upward Tendency of Rent
Now, what is the meaning of this tendency of Rent to rise with social progress,
while Wages tend to fall? Is it not a plain promise that if Rent be treated
as common property, advances in productive power shall be steps in the direction
of realizing through orderly and natural growth those grand conceptions of
both the socialist and the individualist, which in the present condition
of society are justly ranked as Utopian? Is it not likewise a plain warning
that if Rent be treated as private property, advances in productive power
will be steps in the direction of making slaves of the many laborers, and
masters of a few land-owners? Does it not mean that common ownership of Rent
is in harmony with natural law, and that its private appropriation is disorderly
and degrading? When the cause of Rent and the tendency illustrated in the
preceding chart are considered in connection with the self-evident truth
that God made the earth for common use and not for private monopoly, how
can a contrary inference hold? Caused and increased by social growth, 97
the benefits of which should be common, and attaching to land, the just right
to which is equal, Rent must be the natural fund for public expenses. 98
97. Here, far away from civilization, is a solitary settler.
Getting no benefits from government, he needs no public revenues, and
none of the land about him has any value. Another settler comes, and
another, until a village appears. Some public revenue is then required.
Not much, but some. And the land has a little value, only a little; perhaps
just enough to equal the need for public revenue. The village becomes
a town. More revenues are needed, and land values are higher. It becomes
a city. The public revenues required are enormous, and so are the land
98. Society, and society alone, causes Rent. Rising with
the rise, advancing with the growth, and receding with the decline of
society, it measures the earning power of society as a whole as distinguished
from that of the individuals. Wages, on the other hand, measure the earning
power of the individuals as distinguished from that of society as a whole.
We have distinguished the parts into which Wealth is distributed as Wages
and Rent; but it would be correct, indeed it is the same thing, to regard
all wealth as earnings, and to distinguish the two kinds as Communal
Earnings and Individual Earnings. How, then, can there be any question
as to the fund from which society should be supported? How can it be
justly supported in any other way than out of its own earnings?
If there be at all such a thing as design in the universe — and who
can doubt it? — then has it been designed that Rent, the earnings of
the community, shall be retained for the support of the community, and that
Wages, the earnings of the individual, shall be left to the individual in
proportion to the value of his service. This is the divine law, whether we
trace it through complex moral and economic relations, or find it in the
eighth commandment. ...
e. Effect of Retaining Rent for Common Use.
If society retained Rent for common purposes, all incentive to hold land
for any other object than immediate use would disappear. The effect may be
illustrated by a comparison of the last preceding chart with the following:
There is but one difference between this chart and the chart immediately
preceding. In that Rent is confiscated to private use, whereas in this Rent
is retained for common use. All the labor force indicated with red in the
first of the two charts would not more than utilize the space to the left
and part of the adjoining one, which would elevate Wages to what, with the
given labor force, could be produced from the poorer of the two spaces. After
that, increase of Rent would not enrich land-owners at the expense of other
classes; it would enrich the whole community.108
108. The laborer would receive in Distribution all that
he earned and no more than he earned in Production; and that is the natural
In social conditions, where industry is subdivided and trade is intricate,
it is impossible to say arbitrarily what is the equivalent of given labor.
Hence no statute fixing the compensation for labor can really be operative.
All that we can say is that labor is worth what men freely contract to give
and take for it. But it must be what they freely contract to take as well
as what they freely contract to give; and men are not free to contract for
the sale of their labor when labor generally is so divorced from land as
to abnormally glut the labor market and make men's sale of their labor for
almost anything the buyer offers, the alternative of starvation. Laborers
may be as truly enslaved by divorcing labor from land as by driving them
with a whip. ... read the book
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures,
with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894) — Appendix: FAQ
Q2. Would the single tax yield revenue sufficient for all kinds of government?
A. Thomas G. Shearman, Esq., of New York, estimates that sixty-five per cent
of the rent that the land in the United States now yields actually and
potentially to its owners, would be sufficient. But whether it would or
not is as yet an unimportant question. If all revenues ought to
be raised from land values, then no revenues should be drawn from other
sources while any land value remains in private possession. Until
land values are exhausted the taxation of labor cannot be excused.
Q16. Should the whole rental value of land be taken for common use, or only
enough for government purposes?
A. Only enough for government purposes. When the people see that this method
of taxation improves business, increases wages, cheapens land, and generally
promotes prosperity, they will not hesitate to increase their taxes so long
as public improvements are needed and land values are unexhausted. As is
said in "Progress and Poverty" (book viii, ch. ii): "When
the common right to land is so far appreciated that all taxes are abolished
save those which fall upon rent, there is no danger of much more than is
necessary to induce them to collect the public revenues being left to individual
Q22. What difference would it make to tenants whether they paid land
rent to the community or to private owners?
A. When they pay it to the community they are paying it in part to themselves,
and what others pay they share in; for they are part of the community. They are
also exempt from taxes. And since there would be no inducement to speculate in
land if rent went to the community, land would be more plentiful and rents would
consequently be lower.
Q60. If the value of land be destroyed by the single tax, would not
justice require that land-owners be compensated?
A. No. Land is given for the use of all, and rent is produced by the community
as a whole. To legally vest land-ownership in less than the whole, excluding
those to come as well as those that are here, is a moral crime against all who
are excluded. Therefore no government can make a perpetual title to land which
is or can become morally binding. Neither can one generation vest the communal
earnings of future generations in particular persons by any morally valid title,
as they certainly attempt to do when they make grants of land. There is both
divine justice and economic wisdom in the command that "the land shall not
be sold in perpetuity." In the forum of morals all titles to land are subject
to absolute divestment as soon as the people decide upon the change.
Q61. If a man buys land in good faith, under the laws under which we
live, is he not entitled to compensation for his individual loss when titles
A. There is no sounder principle of law than that which, distinguishing the contractual
from the legislative powers of government, prescribes that government cannot
tie up its legislative powers. Now, land tenures and taxation are so clearly
matters of general public policy that no one would deny that they are legislative
and not contractual in character. It follows that titles to land, and privileges
of more or less exemption from taxation, are voidable at the pleasure of the
people. And the possibility of such action on the part of the people is as truly
a part of every grant of land as if it were written expressly in the body of
the instrument. Moreover, notice was given when Henry George published "Progress
and Poverty," and has been reiterated often since in louder and louder tones
until the whole civilized world has become cognizant of it, that an effort is
in progress to do what is in effect this very thing. That notice is a moral cloud
upon every title, and he who buys now buys with notice. It will not do for him
when the time comes, to say: "I relied upon the good faith of the government
whose laws told me I might buy." He has notice, and if he buys he buys at
his peril. Men cannot be allowed to make bets that the effort to retain land
values for common use will fail, and then when they lose their bets call upon
the people to compensate them for the loss. Read the
chapter on "Compensation" in
Henry George's "Perplexed Philosopher." ... read
Charles B. Fillebrown: A Catechism
of Natural Taxation, from Principles of
Natural Taxation (1917)
Q9. Does not the single tax mean the nationalization of land?
A. No; as Henry George has said, "the primary error of the advocates of
land nationalization is in their confusion of equal rights with joint rights.
... In truth, the right to the use of land is not a joint or common right, but
an equal right; a joint or common right is to rent."* It means rather the
socialization of economic rent. It simply proposes gradually to divert an increasing
share of ground rent into the public treasury.
*A Perplexed Philosopher, Part III, Chapter XI: Compensation
Q12. Did not Henry George believe in the abolition of private property
A. Assuredly not. If he did, why was it that he suggested no modification whatever
of present land tenure or "estate in land"? If he did, how could he
have said that the sole "sovereign" and sufficient remedy for the wrongs
of private property in land was "to appropriate rent by taxation"?
Q38. What are the three legs of the tripos, the threefold support upon
which the single tax rests?
A. They are:
(1) The social origin of ground rent -- that the site value of land is
a creation of the community, a public or social value.
(2) The non-shiftability of a land tax -- that no tax, new or old, on the
site value of land can be recovered from the tenant or user by raising his
(3) The ultimate burdenlessness of a land tax -- that the selling value of
land, reduced as it is by the capitalized tax that is imposed upon it, is
an untaxed value. Whatever lowers the income from land lowers proportionately
its selling price, so that whether the established tax upon it has been light
or heavy, it is no burden upon the new purchaser, who buys it at its net
value and thus escapes all part in the tax burden which he should in justice
share with those who now bear it all.
Q46. Would it not be confiscation so to increase the tax on land?
A. What would be confiscated? No land would be taken, no right of occupancy,
or use, or improvement, or sale, or devise; nothing would be taken that is
conveyed or guaranteed by the title deed.
Q47. What is the distinction between taxation and confiscation?
A. The sovereign state may appropriate private property of its citizens in
two ways: (1) by confiscation; (2) by taxation. When one particular man by
treason or otherwise has forfeited his rights as a citizen, the land and
houses and personalty of this one man may all be "forfeit to the crown," while
the validity and sanctity of 9,999 other men's rights are in no way infringed.
This is confiscation. On the other hand, when the state, in order to obtain
the revenue to meet the expenses of government, levies tribute upon its 10,000
citizens impartially, this is taxation.
Q48. But would it not be an injustice to the landowner?
A. If it be an injustice to tax hard-earned incomes (wages) to maintain an
unearned income (net economic rent) that bears no tax burden, how can it
be an injustice to stop doing so? There can be no injustice in taking for
the benefit of the community the value that is created by the community.
... read the whole article
Charles T. Root — Not a Single Tax! (1925)
With this in view let us lay down and briefly defend the proposition that
Taxation as a means of meeting the proper expenses of government is oppressive,
unjust, inexpedient and unnecessary.
This proposition will strike a good many readers as absurd, but all must at
least recognize the timeliness of the topic and the importance of any contribution
to the discussion of a subject which is agitating the whole civilized world,
for the methods, subjects and amounts of taxation are among the pressing problems
of every country.
The most obvious question which arises in the mind of anyone who reads for
the first time the proposition above laid down is this:
"If taxation is unnecessary, what is to take its place? Government and
its functions are increasingly expensive. They require a lot of money. Where
is it to come from?" The answer may be placed in the form of a second
Every community, whatever its political name and extent -- village, city,
state or province or nation -- has its own normal, unfailing income, growing
with the growth of the community and always adequate to meet necessary governmental
To explain: Every community has an indefeasible original right to the land
on which it exists, and to all the natural, unmodified properties and advantages
of that particular area of the earth's surface. To this land in its natural
state, undrained, unfenced, unfertilized, unplanted and unoccupied, including
its waters, its contents and its location, every individual in the community
(which may consist of any political unit selected) has an equal right, while
all the individuals together have a joint right to the value for use which
society has conferred upon these natural advantages.
This value for use is known as "Land Value," or by the not particularly
descriptive but generally adopted name of "Economic Rent."
Briefly defined the land value or economic rent of any piece of ground is
the largest annual amount voluntarily offered for the exclusive use of that
ground, or of an equivalent parcel, independent of improvements thereon. Every
holder or user of land pays economic rent, but he now pays most of it to the
wrong party. The aggregate economic rent of the territory occupied by any political
unit is, as has been stated above, always sufficient, usually more than sufficient,
for the legitimate expenses of the government of that unit. As also stated
above, the economic rent belongs to the community, and not to individual landowners.
... read the whole article
Clarence Darrow: The Land Belongs
To The People (1916)
This earth is a little raft moving in the endless sea of space, and the
mass of its human inhabitants are hanging on as best they can. It is as if
some raft filled with shipwrecked sailors should be floating on the ocean,
and a few of the strongest and most powerful would take all the raft they
could get and leave the most of the people, especially the ones who did the
work, hanging to the edges by their eyebrows. These men who have taken possession
of this raft, this little planet in this endless space, are not even content
with taking all there is and leaving the rest barely enough to hold onto,
but they think so much of themselves and their brief day that while they
live they must make rules and laws and regulations that parcel out the earth
for thousands of years after they are dead and, gone, so that their descendants
and others of their kind may do in the tenth generation exactly what they
are doing today — keeping the earth and all the good things of the
earth and compelling the great mass of mankind to toil for them.
Now, the question is, how are you going to get it back? Everybody who thinks
knows that private ownership of the land is wrong. If ten thousand men can
own America, then one man can own it, and if one man may own it he may take
all that the rest produce or he may kill them if he sees fit. It is inconsistent
with the spirit of manhood. No person who thinks can doubt but that he was
born upon this planet with the same birthright that came to every man born
like him. And it is for him to defend that birthright. And the man who will
not defend it, whatever the cost, is fitted only to be a slave. The earth
belongs to the people — if they can get it — because if you cannot
get it, it makes no difference whether you have a right to it or not, and
if you can get it, it makes no difference whether you have a right to it
or not, you just take it. The earth has been taken from the many by the few.
It made no difference that they had no right to it; they took it.
Now, there are some methods of getting access to the earth which are easier
than others. The easiest, perhaps, that has been contrived is by means of
taxation of the land values and land values alone; and I need only say a
little upon that question. One trouble with it which makes it almost impossible
to achieve, is that it is so simple and so easy. You cannot get people to
do anything that is simple; they want it complex so they can be fooled.
Now the theory of Henry George and of those who really believe in the common
ownership of land is that the public should take not alone taxation from
the land, but the public should take to itself the whole value of the land
that has been created by the public — should take it all. It should
be a part of the public wealth, should be used for public improvements, for
pensions, and belong to the people who create the wealth — which is
a strange doctrine in these strange times. It can be done simply and easily;
it can be done by taxation. All the wealth created by the public could be
taken back by the public and then poverty would disappear, most of it at
least. The method is so simple, and so legal even — sometimes a thing
is legal if it is simple — that it is the easiest substantial reform
for men to accomplish, and when it is done this great problem of poverty,
the problem of the ages, will be almost solved. We may need go farther. ... read
the whole article
Martin Luther King, Jr: Where
Do We Go From Here? (1967)
... I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where
do we go from here," that we honestly face the fact that the Movement
must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American
society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask
the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And
when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the
economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that
question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply
saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the
whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's
market place. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces
beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You
see, my friends, when you deal with this,
- you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?"
- You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?"
- You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay
water bills in a world that is two thirds water?"
These are questions that must be asked. ... read
the book excerpt and whole speech
What Is Geolibertarianism?
Geolibertarians are simply libertarians who take the principle of self-ownership
to its logical conclusion: Just as the right to one's self implies the right
to the fruit of one's labor (i.e., the right to property), the right to the
fruit of one's labor implies the right to labor, and the right to labor implies
the right to labor — somewhere. Hence John
Locke's proviso that one has "property" in land only to the
extent that there is "enough, and as good left in common for others." When
there is not, land begins to have rental value.
Thus, the rental value of land reflects the extent to which Locke's proviso
has been violated, thereby making community-collection of rent, or CCR, a
just and necessary means of upholding the Lockean principle of private property.
In the late 19th century CCR was known as the "Single Tax"— a
term that was (and is) used to denote Henry
George's proposal to abolish all taxes save for a single "tax" on
the value of land, irrespective of the value of improvements in or on it.