Taxation. The Several Kinds Of Taxes.
Taxes On Land.
1. IN the preceding book we have dealt with the
subject of taxation under its general aspects as the most
important element of the financial system. We have now
to complete our inquiry by examining the characteristics
of the different kinds of taxes, and we may begin this
discussion with one of the oldest and most widely employed
forms of compulsory contribution that levied on land. The
interest and importance of this kind of taxation need not
be insisted on. Perhaps some capitation taxes or a rude
form of the property tax can claim a higher antiquity, but
in ancient, mediaeval, and modern times, in backward and in
progressive societies, we meet with something in the shape
of taxation on land as one of the primary agents of pro-
duction. The economic nature of the impost and the par-
ticular methods adopted vary: the existence of some form
of public charges on land is almost universal, and shows no
sign of decrease. Greater financial knowledge and more
efficient regulations produce important changes. Indeed, it
is this development that chiefly needs our attention. From
the first feeble attempts up to the elaborate processes of
modern administration, we can trace progress through a
series of stages which illustrate the historical movement.
2. Regarding land itself as the ' object ' to be taxed
the most obvious ' unit ' in a new community would be that
of a given area. Assume that none but very fertile land is
cultivated and that only in a simple manner, and the tax
by area will be also the just one. Each unit is of about
380 PUBLIC FINANCE. [BOOK IV.
the same value and employs about the same amount of
capital and labour. The early taxes on Jugera in Rome
and on 'hides' in England, were probably at first based
on this system, though they soon departed from it, and at
present a few of the English dependencies retain it 1 . As
soon as differences in quality of land and in mode of culti-
vation become noticeable, the method ceases to be fair.
Another form of land tax, that in proportion to the
produce, is of greater antiquity. Eastern Sovereigns re-
ceived their revenue usually in this manner. One-fourth,
' as in India,' one-fifth, 'as in Egypt,' or one-tenth of the yield
was claimed by the monarch. This ' tithe system,' as it
may be called, arose out of the ruler's part-proprietorship
of the soil. The proportional tax was closely analogous to
a metayer rent. It was partly adjusted to the productive-
ness of the land and did not press so heavily on the poor
soils as the area tax. Under a competitive system its
immediate burden would fall on the consumers of agricul-
tural products through the rise of price, though the ultimate
effect would be to check cultivation, and therefore to lower
rent. As the system has been generally applied to
societies in the customary stage the pressure came on
the cultivator, who is at once the producer and the chief
consumer of those commodities.
These primitive methods are improved, either by arrang-
ing land in classes according to its fertility and applying a
different rate to each class, or by altering the proportion
of produce taken according to the method of cultivation.
As soon as the elements of fertility and proximity to
market begin to tell, it is evident that a uniform rate falls
with undue severity on the poor and distant lands, either
hindering their cultivation or raising the value of all
produce. Consequently we meet efforts at differentiation
in various countries. Under the Roman Empire land in
some provinces was divided into that of first, second, third,
or other fertility, and the rate was adjusted accordingly ;
in others one-fifth or one- seventh of the yield was taken l .
In later times the Duchy of Mecklenburg had -its land
graded into three classes, with a different rate on each, and
some of the Indian assessments have a like idea as their
base 2 . These modifications show some consciousness that
the real value of the agent, land is not to be measured
either by its surface area or its gross produce. They are,
however, but imperfect attempts at reaching the true aim
of a land tax, the value embodied in the object. A tithe-
or other proportional produce tax does not allow for the
expenses of production : as equal amounts of produce are
often due to very different quantities of outlay, it dis-
courages the employment of capital and is practically in-
convenient in the form of assessment 3 . A classification of
soils gives some, but insufficient recognition to the influence
of natural fertility. Far more is required. The effort to
get at the true value of the ' object ' is attained in respect
to the land tax when it is levied on the net 'yield.' The
capital of the cultivator and the profits due to it have to be
estimated in order to get the income derived from the soil
itself. Political equity and financial expediency have both
contributed to this result ; the fairest and most productive
land tax is, on the whole, that which takes the net return
as its standard. Fiscal practice tended in this^direction.
The financial reform of Diocletian seems to have adopted a
unit of value, not of area (Juguni), as the base for taxation
of land. The English ' hide ' came to be regarded as the
' carucate ' of variable area but constant value 4 .
1 Clamageran, i. 16.
2 'Land (in Ohio) was divided into three classes, according to quality, and
there were three rates of taxation per 100 acres; one for land of the first
quality, another for land of the second quality, and still another for land of the
third quality,' Ely, Taxation, 134.
3 Restraints must be placed on the sale of crops until they are inspected by
the tax-collector and his share settled.
* Wagner, iii. 26 ; Clamageran, i. 19. Seebohm, English Village Community,
290 sq. For England, Seebohm, 40; Dowell, iii. 67.
382 PUBLIC FINANCE. [BOOK IV.
The mediaeval land taxes are so much mixed up with
rent and the incidents of tenure that little stress can be
placed on their form : they are often parts of the older
property tax, and only disentangled from it by degrees.
Early English taxation ' reached the landowner through his
cattle, farming stock and corn and other produce of lands 1 /
and the later subsidies had a rate on land as one of their
component parts. In France the Taille was developed from
the feudal dues and became permanent in 1445. But wher-
ever the system of taxing land had to be applied, the idea of
taking its value as the real object of taxation came to the
front, though the difficulties in carrying it out caused the
frequent adoption of the ' apportioned ' tax, as in the case
of the Taille ', both the English * tenths and fifteenths,' and
the subsidies, as, too, the German and Italian land taxes 2 .
The defects of these systems, with their exemptions and
inequalities, made a reform essential.
3. It is far easier to point out the conditions of theoretic
justice than to overcome the obstacles to arriving at the
true net yield. The land tax system requires as its basis
a valuation, and in the attempt to furnish this requisite
various methods have been tried. Perhaps the simplest is
that which follows the indications of the market, and uses
as its guide the rent at which land is let. There is an
obvious advantage in keeping close to the facts, but there
is also great difficulty in ascertaining them correctly and
following their successive changes. Adam Smith approved
of the use of registers of leases, which he would make com-
pulsory, and by their aid assess the land of occupying
owners 3 . The selling value is another possible criterion ; it
is evidently related to rent as principal to interest, and for
short periods the proportion is steady. A tax directly
based on the sale value of land is, however, a tax on pro-
perty rather than income.
The difficulties in ascertaining the actual rents, and in some countries the large proportion of occupying owners
have popularized the system of determining the value of
land for taxation by official assessment based on survey
and valuation. This method is evidently the older. The
Roman provincial land tax had a survey as its foundation,
followed by valuation l . Domesday Book is a less perfect
example of the same kind in England, and in one form or
another valuations were common enough in the Middle
Ages, but were in general used only for the ruder forms of
land taxation, and dealt with the gross produce from the
soil or its supposed capital value.
Refinements in fiscal methods require a corresponding
elaboration in the valuation or, to use the serviceable
French term, the cadastre 2 on which they depend. Most
of the controversies about the land tax turn on the method
of cadastration and the expediency of its revision at stated
periods. For the completion of a cadastre a series of pro-
cesses is needed : there must be the measurement of the
surface and its delineation by maps, with the boundaries of
properties marked, and the ownership specified. To this
technical work the economic task of valuation succeeds.
Estimates of produce and prices and of the cost of cultiva-
tion form the data on which the ' net annual value ' is
arrived at. Each of these steps involves much labour, and
is liable to error, more particularly in the economic part of
the work. Produce must depend on the method and skill
employed in cultivation, prices on many different con-
ditions, and both, especially the latter, are fluctuating.
Besides, to be really useful, a fiscal survey must deal with
minute portions of the soil ; each distinct piece (w pare e lie)
should be valued and revalued after an interval. Such an
inquiry takes a long period to accomplish for any country,
and by the time it is completed the results for the districts
first treated have become antiquated 3 . However perfect
1 Wagner, iii. 25-6. 2 Said to be derived from ' capistratum?
3 ' The survey and valuation of Bohemia is said to have been the work of
more than a hundred years,' Wealth of Nations, 351. The French Cadastre,
384 PUBLIC FINANCE. [BOOK IV.
when first started, a valuation must soon fail to represent
the actual position of the land it deals with. The opening
of new lines of communication, the adoption of a different
style of farming, and the growth of towns will completely
alter the old results 1 . The imperfections of the cadastre
are grave enough from a theoretical point of view, but they
also entail much hardship and injustice. Some persons
and some districts are unduly favoured, leaving to others
to make up the amount that they have escaped paying.
For example in France (where the land tax is apportioned)
some proprietors are taxed four times as heavily as others.
The differences in Italian taxation were still greater, owing
to the use of different cadastral bases for different dis-
tricts 2 . Between the difficulties that adherence to an old
valuation causes and those due to the expense and con-
fusion of incessant renewals of the cadastre, it appears that
the safer course is to keep the original valuations checked
by the actual letting values of land. Apart from the ex-
pense of continual revaluation, it is also true that the ' net
annual value ' or the ' net income ' of official estimations is
in a sense hypothetical, as it depends on the accuracy of
the assumptions made for the purpose. There is, however,
the qualifying fact that a well-executed cadastre is of use
for other purposes. A careful survey is essential for
facilitating the transfer of land, so that it is merely the
economic part that could in any case be dispensed with.
There seems to be no great obstacle to a gradual revision
of the general valuation supplemented by local valuations
strictly on the letting value. In this way the former would
begun in 1807, was not completed till 1850. In Madras we hear that ' in 1855
the work of survey and re-settlement was begun. This work will be accom-
plished in or about 1895, but certain districts of the Presidency will then have
seen this very re-settlement expire,' Goodrich, Economic Journal, i. 451.
be a slowly changing norm, while the latter would recognise
the actual movements of land value.
4. But whatever may be the hindrances in the way of
a perfectly adjusted land tax, there is no doubt that most
financial systems use it as a substantial resource. The
English land tax, so-called, has really been converted into
a rent charge l ; but Schedule A of the income tax com-
prises land and houses, the former in 1888-9 being
58,755,134 in value, yielding at the rate of 6d. less than
1,500,000. To this sum has to be added the portion of
local rates that fall on land. Using the proportion of land
to houses under Schedule A as a guide to the division of
rates between the two classes we would get slightly under
30 per cent, for the share of land. As the rates may be
taken at something under 28,000,000 this method would
give 8,500,000 as the local charge on land for England
and Wales 2 . Scotland and Ireland show a larger propor-
tion ; 50 per cent, would in their case be the share of land,
and allowing for the other elements mixed up with rates
in the accounts for those countries, we may say that of the
total 6,500,000 under 3,000,000 would fall on land.
The extent to which the taxation of houses falls on ground
rent is an insoluble problem, at least for statistical purposes,
but omitting it for the present, we get a total taxation of
13,000,000 on land for the United Kingdom. How far
this represents a charge on pure land value, as distinct from
that on investments of capital is questionable. We need
not in any case hesitate to ascribe the greater part to the
value of the land, not to the improvements. When we add
to the above the tithes and tithe rent charges, so far as
they are devoted to ecclesiastical or other public purposes,
the total reaches 15,000,000. Allowing for considerable
under valuation in the figures of Schedule A, it is never-
theless beyond doubt that land contributes very largely to
the public requirements.
At the same time we must remember that a great deal of
this burden is of long standing ; the income tax has been for
almost fifty years in continuous operation, and in the early
part of the century the poor rate was excessive. There
is no evidence of new and oppressive charges being im-
posed. The growth of local taxation, as Mr. Goschen
has shown 1 , has chiefly affected the towns, while until
recently the rent of land was rising.
5. On passing to France we meet with a very different
system of land taxation. The old Taille, whose defects
were universally recognised, was supplemented in 1710
by the Dixieme, and from 1748 a Vingtttme was levied.
These 'tenths' and 'twentieths' were rather income than pure
land taxes, but were abolished at the Revolution along with
the Tattle^ and the modern system was inaugurated.
The decree of December, 1790, established the Impot
fonder which was to be apportioned on all landed property
in proportion to its net revenue. This phrase is evidently
due to physiocratic influence, and was explained to mean
what remained over after all expenses were deducted
from the gross produce. The tax was to be a fixed sum
apportioned among the contributories, and to be payable
in money. It was not to exceed one-sixth of the net
revenue, and on the loose estimate that 240,000,000 francs
would be one-sixth, the contribution was fixed at that
amount with an additional 6o,ooo,oco francs for local
taxation. The disturbances of the Revolutionary period
hindered the collection of this impost, and the unequal
pressure owing to the absence of proper valuations was
the ground of successive reductions, by which the total
amount, from being 240,000,000 francs iri 1790-6, fell to
150,000,000 in 1821. In 1835 the increased value of house
property, which is included by the law of 1790, was taken
into account. The additional centimes, really an increase
of the tax, were given up in 1850, and by 1880 the total
amount was almost 174,000,000 francs (,7,000,000). The
extra centimes for the departments and communes were
very nearly trebled in amount since 1820; in 1880 they
were 94,000,000 francs and 82,000.000 francs respectively 1
The loud complaints of the agriculturists as to the in-
equalities and unjust pressure of the Impot fonder have
been the cause of the late reform by which the house tax
is distinctly separated from the land tax, and the latter,
which was 118,000,000 francs, reduced to 102,000,000 francs.
The result has been that by the budget estimate of 1 890, even
with an extra charge of 8 per cent, on the original general
tax, the total taxation on land stands at 255,000,000 francs
or less than 10,400,000. The increase of house property
and buildings has supplied a new object for the heavier
taxation as in the case of England. The land tax remains
one of apportionment, while the house tax, or more strictly
that on land with buildings (Propritte bdlie\ has become
rated, and is fixed for the present at 3*20 per cent. The
next step in reform will probably be the abandonment of
the apportioning of the land tax in favour of the more
suitable rated system 2 .
6. The Italian land tax is a development from the
taxes of the several Italian States. As the simplest course,
110,000,000 lire was the amount fixed for apportion-
ment among the different divisions. Measures of reform
have been since attempted. The tax on buildings was
separated in 1 865 and made a rated tax, and redistributions
of the total charge among the provinces were carried out.
The defective scheme of the old cadastres has led to the
enactment of a law prescribing the preparation of a new
and uniform one for all Italy. The variations in amount
of the land tax have been from 125,000,000 lire to about
96,000,000 lire, i.e., speaking generally,from about 4, 000,000
to 5,000,000, but the local taxation has to be added.
Thus for the year 1886-7 the provincial tax was 53,000,000
lire, and the communal one 76,000,000 lire which, with
110,000.000 lire, the general land tax for that year, made
a total of 240,000,000 lire (9,200,000) ; a much higher
charge than that of France. In qualification it must, how-
ever, be noticed that the whole taxation of Italy is far
heavier. The most serious grievance is found in the in-
stances of heavily taxed communes where the greater part
of the value of land is absorbed in taxation. So far has this
been carried that there have been many cases of evictions
by the State l . Inequality in distribution and excessive
weight in amount are the gravest possible defects in any tax.
The new valuation, though costly, will remedy the former,
but the latter is a question of policy as well as Finance.
The Spanish land tax, which in its present form dates
from j 845, includes stock, and is therefore more primitive.
Owing to the want of a correct valuation the charges are
imperfectly distributed. The proportion fixed for 1890-1 is
1 5 J per cent, on those places that have given a satisfactory
declaration of value, for others 17! per cent. The estimate
for 1890-1 is nearly 115,000,000 pesetas (4,600,000) with
over 17,000,000 pesetas (680,000) for local purposes.
The Portuguese land tax is closely on the lines of the
French hnpbt fonder. It was originally rated, but since
1852 has been apportioned; it is, however, proposed to
return to the rated method. The yield is nearly 3,000,000
milreis (about 650,000) after paying assessment expenses.
Belgium has a rated tax based on an elaborate valuation.
Up to 1867 the method of apportionment was employed.
For national purposes the annual amount is about 500,000
with additional centimes for local government of over one-'
half that sum (300,000 l ).
Greece, which possessed the tithe system till 1880, has
now a rather primitive but yet complicated group of ' land
taxes ' on labouring animals, on area and certain pro-
ducts, yielding altogether about 500,000.
7. The land taxes are as yet confined to the several
States of the German Empire, the imperial revenue being
derived mainly from indirect taxation. With numerous
differences in detail there is the general system of basing
the tax on official valuation. The Prussian land tax, in-
herited from the i8th century, was reformed in the period
1810-20; a new valuation was arranged, and inequalities in
the distribution between the different provinces modified ;
but the survivals of the older system of privilege prevented
complete success in this object. In 1821 its yield was
under 1,500,000. These inequalities were dealt with by
the legislation of 1861. The house tax was separated, and
for the land tax the amount was fixed at 10,000,000 thalers
(1,500,000) from 1865, and a fresh valuation carried out.
The new Prussian provinces, acquired in 1866, added
3,200,000 thalers (480,000) to this fixed sum, giving a
1 More accurate figures for 1891 are
For the State, 13,103,000 francs.
For Provinces, 1,926,000 francs.
For Communes, 5,621,000 francs.
total of ;2,coo,ooo. The additional local charges are not
easily arrived at, but for the year 1880-1 the communal and
provincial extra land taxes were equal to those of the State
in amount (^"2.000,000), giving a total burden on land of
.4,000,000, independent of the action of the income tax.
Each of the smaller German States employs some form
of land tax. Bavaria shows a less developed form in its
reference to gross produce as the basis of calculation.
The cadastral surveys are in most cases elaborate, and
serve other than fiscal purposes, such as facilitating the
transfer of land. The communes of the several States also
receive contributions through additions to the land tax 1 .
Austria has developed a land tax on a similar type.
By the reform of 1817 the valuation of the i8th century
was to be replaced by a new one completed in 1856. The
house tax was separated in 1820. In 1879 a law for revision
was passed, and in 1881 the annual amount was fixed at
35,190,000 florins for fifteen years, a new valuation to
be then made. The Hungarian land tax was almost the
same sum (35,000,000 florins), and the local charges in
Austria levied on land were believed to reach the like
amount. Thus the burden on land in Austria proper is
Taxation of land in the United States is imposed
through the general property tax, which, as we shall see,
presses with undue weight on real property, but its dis-
cussion belongs to a later chapter 2 . Nor need the Indian
land revenue be again considered.
8. The foregoing notices of the land taxation of the
principal countries bring out its characteristic features.
Specially worthy of observation are : first, the considerable
amount contributed on the whole, and to both general and
local revenues. The absolute amount is highest in Eng-
land, but everywhere a good percentage of the net annual
returns is taken for public use 3 . Another very common
circumstance is the employment of the system of appor-
tionment. A total fixed sum is thus secured, and as each
district must pay its part, it has a manifest interest in making
all contribute fairly ; nevertheless, the method has the great
defects of rendering an important part of the tax revenue
inelastic, and it is likely to reduce the land tax to a rent
charge as happened in the case of England. The ' rated '
or percentage system is free from these faults, and is there-
fore the best suited for modern Finance. A third question
intimately connected with the land tax is that of valuation.
If the ' rated ' system be used, it is necessary in the in-
terests of justice that the basis on which the estimate of
value is made should be uniform. Thus e. g. the English
valuation of land is believed to be closer to the true value
than the Irish one, from which it follows that the income
tax in its A schedule is not the same in the two countries.
The Italian land tax is a more extreme instance of the
same evil. In all countries this inequality must in some
degree exist between individuals and smaller districts, but
this fact only strengthens the claim for all practicable
efforts to secure the removal of proven injustices. Even
if it be impossible to alter quickly the particular forms
of the tax, there is an advantage in knowing the amount
of inequality, which can then be compensated by the
adjustment of other taxes.
Finally, the land tax is what has been called a * real ' \
tax ; it deals with the object, land, and takes no note of
the position of the proprietor. When properly developed
it is proportioned to ' net produce,' and therefore allows
for the expenses of working the soil. For the same reason
it should not take indebtedness into account. Charges on
land are a part of the net return and have no claim to
deduction. A variable land tax may therefore press with
great severity on encumbered proprietors who have to pay
the tax on the interest of their debts. Any attempt to
remedy this evil has the necessary result of creating a
partial tax on interest of capital, and if unaccompanied by
taxation of other forms of capital, would either discourage
loans to owners of land or raise the interest on mortgages.
The conclusion suggested by these facts is that the land
tax had best be absorbed in a general income tax,
when part of the burden would, as under existing English
arrangements, be paid by the creditors. If, on the other
hand, the distinct land tax be retained, two courses are
open ; either to retain it at a fixed amount when it becomes
a rent charge, an undesirable proceeding, or to give it up
to local bodies. We have seen that taxes on real property
are a good form of local revenue 1 , and both in France and
the United States this treatment which is in accordance
with British practice has been proposed. The actual con-
dition in Germany with its numerous smaller States partly
realizes this object 2 .
9. The incidence of the land tax is a final question for
consideration. In its ruder forms the pressure fell chiefly
on the actual cultivators, though the ultimate effect of
heavy taxation must have been felt by the proprietors in
the check to agricultural improvement and the diminution
in their dues. Under the competitive system, a propor-
tional tax on produce tends to raise prices and therefore
comes on the consumer, but the inevitable reaction on rent
is found here also. As soon as net return is taken as the
standard for taxation, rent is the element affected. A
land tax, therefore, in its developed form, may not in-
accurately be regarded as a tax on rent, and the general
principles of incidence applied to it. In actual working,
however, various complications arise. The action of com-
petition is not always found in full force, and so far as any
portion of the pure economic rent is held by the immediate
payer tenant or other he has to submit to the burden :
A land tax may also affect the interests of labour. If in-
vestment of capital in agriculture is checked, and if the
rate of wages is easily affected by the action of employers
(as has been often the case) taxation on the cultivator may
be shifted, not to the landlord by lowering rent, but to the
labourer by lowering wages, or in a time of rising prices by
preventing their proportional increase in money 1 . Again,
the fact that the land which is the object of taxation often
owes its value to the capital sunk in it, makes the burden
fall on the yield of fixed capital, but we need not again
consider this point 2 .
A more difficult and disputable point arises in connexion
with the incidence of a long continued land tax. Here it
is said that the tax is really a deduction from property.
As land is sought for its revenue, what lowers its revenue
lowers its selling price, and therefore a land tax falls
altogether on the possessor at the time of its imposition.
Subsequent acquirers take the land subject to the burden
and pay a lower price in consequence. This process of
' amortization,' as it has been called, makes the subsequent
removal of the tax undesirable : the persons who have lost
by its establishment are not the same as those who gain by
its remission. A purchaser has got land cheaper and gains
a further advantage by escaping the tax ; in fact he is
allowed for it twice over, once at the time of purchase and
again at that of remission.
The element of truth in this theory, which has received
much favour, appears to be the following : (i) as previously
pointed out 3 , when a land tax becomes definitely fixed, so
that it can be foreseen, or even capitalized and redeemed,
there is no inaccuracy in speaking of it as a charge on land
fall on the margin between the actual rent and the rack-rent, and so far diminish
the advantage derived by the farmer from his actual rent being below a rack-
rent, and tilt that margin were exhausted it would naturally be useless for
him to apply to his landlord to readjust his rent,' Goschen, Local Taxation,
1 See Leslie, Essays, 395-7, for an illustration.
2 See Bk. iii'. ch. 5. 6. 3 Bk. ii. ch. 4. 5.
394 PUBLIC FINANCE. [BOOK IV.
i pvhich lowers its selling price ; it is just the same as a mort-
gage, and is taken into account by purchasers. (2) A stable
tax of any kind has some of the advantages to which
Canard gives such exaggerated importance. Its pressure
is more regular, and therefore less felt. An invariable land
tax, undoubtedly, has this in its favour. On the other hand,
there is no reason for regarding the modern land taxes as
perfectly stable and fixed. In transactions with respect to
land there are not merely the existing, but the prospective
burdens to be taken into account. To assume, e.g. that
the French 'centimes additionnels* or the English local
rates have been ' amortized ' would be an obvious error.
We cannot foresee the future movement of taxation in
respect to land, and we cannot expect that the present
systems will always continue. Another important con-
sideration is the relation of land taxation to the other
forms. If it should happen to be unduly heavy there
would be a tendency to depress the value of the land so
taxed ; just as if it were too light its effect would be the
opposite, but this is characteristic of all taxation. Tea,
sugar, or any other commodity will have its value for the
time being affected by the creation or remission of a
special tax on it. But where, as we may expect, there
is a due proportion of taxation to the several forms of
income, the investor in land will only receive the same
proportional return as he would obtain in other directions.
/ An alteration in the land tax ought to have as its motive
the effort to secure a more equal distribution of burdens,
and to this there can be no valid objection. At the same
time, where a tax has been recognised as at once special
and definitely fixed, it seems to pass out of the ordinary
category of taxes and into that of charges, a transforma-
tion only possible in the case of durable productive wealth,
and most prominent in respect to land.