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Home -> Merlin Harold Hunter -> Outlines of public finance -> Chapter 16 continue

Outlines of public finance - Chapter 16 continue

1. Preface

2. Chapter 1

3. Chapter 1 continue

4. Chapter 2

5. Chapter 2 continue

6. Chapter 3

7. Chapter 3 continue

8. Chapter 3 continue

9. Chapter 4

10. Chapter 4 continue

11. Chapter 4 continue

12. Chapter 5

13. Chapter 5 continue

14. Chapter 5 continue

15. Chapter 6

16. Chapter 6 continue

17. Chapter 7

18. Chapter 7 continue

19. Chapter 7

20. Chapter 7 continue

21. Chapter 9

22. Chapter 9 continue

23. Chapter 10

24. Chapter 10 continue

25. Chapter 10 continue

26. Chapter 11

27. Chapter 11 continue

28. Chapter 11 continue

29. Chapter 12

30. Chapter 12 continue

31. Chapter 13

32. Chapter 13 continue

33. Chapter 13 continue

34. Chapter 14

35. Chapter 14 continue

36. Chapter 14 continue

37. Chapter 15

38. Chapter 15 continue

39. Chapter 15 continue

40. Chapter 16

41. Chapter 16 continue

42. Chapter 17

43. Chapter 17 continue

44. Chapter 17 continue

45. Chapter 18

46. Chapter 18 continue

47. Chapter 18 continue

48. Chapter 19

49. Chapter 19 continue

50. Chapter 19 continue

51. Chapter 19 continue

52. Chapter 20

53. Chapter 20 continue

54. Chapter 20 continue

55. Chapter 20 continue

Assume three farms in different parts of the country,
each having a selling value of $300 per acre for the land.

One piece is comparatively new, and has been cultivated
but little; another was swampy and comparatively worth-
less until a dredge ditch was constructed; the other has
been farmed intensively for generations, and has its pres-
ent fertility and value only because of scientific cultiva-
tion, rotation of crops, and extensive fertilization. The
attempt to assess land values equally under the general
property tax has proved so farcical that it would seem
folly to attempt to separate the value of the bare land
from that of the improvements in such cases as the above.

The problem of valuation would not be so hopeless in
cities since the improvement usually consists in a sepa-
rable building. Generally, however, no separate value
has been placed upon the site and the building in making
sales. The entire increase in site values, moreover, often
does not represent unearned gains. The owner frequently
makes no allowance for building depreciation, but calcu-
lates that the increase in the value of the site will offset
the depreciation of the building. Such situations but
magnify the difficulty of making assessments to deter-
mine the value of the bare land.

If the state had been the universal landlord from the
beginning, and had proceeded to accurately measure and
collect the economic rent from year to year, the single tax
plan would involve no particular burden. The resulting
condition would be that land would have no selling value.
The insurmountable difficulties and injustices of destruc-
tions of values which have grown up over a period of
time appear, however, when it is suggested that a social
group adopt the single tax after the system of private
property in land has been in vogue for several generations.

Modifications of Single Tax Plan. Because of these
very evident obstacles in the way of the adoption of the
single tax principles in toto, some of the thorough single
taxers at heart have temporized somewhat in their prac-
tical demands. These temporizations must not be con-
sidered, however, as the single tax, but merely as partak-


ing somewhat of the nature of it. Some would allow other
taxes to remain, especially those used for regulatory pur-
poses under the police power. A few have gone so far as
to advocate the Federal income tax not that they believe
hi the income tax, but that they consider it better than
an increase in the taxes on commodities.

Many are in favor of letting bygones be bygones, and
advocate the taking of future increases in land values for
the state. Different methods of collecting have been sug-
gested, such as taking the increase at the time of sale, or
increasing the amount of tax at regular intervals. The
same difficulties occur here in determining what part of
the increase in value belongs to the bare land, and what
part to the results of labor on and in the land. Moreover,
if a purchaser of land knows that when he sells the land
all increased values will be confiscated, or that the tax is
to be increased gradually, proper allowances will be made
in the purchase price, and there will be no unearned in-
crement except that which could not be foreseen.

This scheme of increased taxation could be carried out
only through the practice of deception the purchaser
must be made to believe the tax will not be levied, and
then the levy be made. The separate assessment of land
and buildings, the placing of a lower rate of tax on build-
ings than on land, and the gradual reduction of taxes on
buildings, are looked upon favorably by single tax enthu-
siasts as being possible entering wedges for the broader

Apportionment of Revenue. One other difficulty de-
serves to be mentioned; that is, the apportionment of
revenue. All the revenues of the various political units
are to come from the single source land. Upon what
basis shall it be decided how much shall go to the Federal
government, to the states, to the counties, cities, town-
ships, and school districts? On the basis of the claim that
this revenue belongs to society since it has been created
by society, it would seem just and logical that th revenue


should be distributed to the parts of society which have
been instrumental in causing its accumulation. The dif-
ficulty which one would encounter in attempting to dis-
tribute the annual rental from the Woolworth site on such
a basis is easily apparent.

195. The Burden of the Single Tax Would Be Most
Severely Felt by Rural Districts. Much discussion has
been carried on as to what effect the adoption of a tax on
land values to secure the amount of revenue which is
now needed would have in changing the tax burden, par-
ticularly as between rural and urban communities. It
has been set forth by its advocates, in order to win the
rural population to its support, that rural communities
under such a system of taxation would pay proportion-
ately less taxes than at present. In some cases this might
be true, but a little calculation should convince one that,
as a general proposition, the opposite situation will prevail.

Comparison of Rural and Urban Values. The enormous
land values of the city are pictured a block in the loop
district in Chicago, for example and then the insignifi-
cant value of an acre of farm land is offered hi compari-
son. The deceitfulness in such a portrayal lies in the fact
that the total value of all the agricultural land in an assess-
ment district is not compared with the total value of all
city lots. If this be done it will be found that in most
cases agricultural land values exceed the values of city
lands. The other aspect of vital importance is the pro-
portion which the value of other assessable property bears
to the value of land in each case. In general, the propor-
tion is much higher in cities than in the country. When
these two features are taken into consideration, the con-
clusion inevitably follows that, if land values were made
to shoulder the entire tax burden, a larger proportionate
amount would be exacted from the rural districts than
before the inauguration of the plan.

Suppose an agricultural section and a city in the same
taxing district. The assessed value of the rural land has


been $5,000,000 and the assessment of other rural prop-
erty $2,000,000. In the city the assessed value of the
land has been $4,000,000, and of other property, $3,000,-
000. The total tax collected has been $200,000, shared
equally between city and country because the assessment
was the same. With the exemption of all but land values
this equality is disturbed, and more than half the amount
will be assessed against the rural communities.

While it is the predominating condition generally, in
agricultural communities, that the value of land exceeds
the value of other property, exceptions are not hard to
find. In some of the poorer communities land serves but
little purpose, as in some of the states of the Southwest,
or among the abandoned farms of New England. Here a
large part of the taxable property consists of other than
land, and the effect of adopting the single tax on land
values would be tragic. Officials would be confronted
with the task of extracting revenues from a source which
had a bare existence.

The Individual Owner. The aggregate relation between
land values and other values becomes the concern of the
individual property owner when it is suggested to make
the land the sole basis of taxes. Suppose the aggregate
relation is 50 per cent land values, and 50 per cent a prop-
erty valuation, which is to be discarded. An individual
whose property was made up of these proportions would
find no difference in his tax burden; one whose land
represented 75 per cent, and other property 25 per cent
of the total value, would be the loser by the change; one
whose land was 25 per cent of his total property, and other
property 75 per cent, would be the gainer. A few years
ago, when there was agitation for the untaxing of build-
ings in New York City, the land values of Manhattan
represented 64 per cent of the total, and buildings 34 per
cent. Consequently, only persons who had land worth
more than 64 per cent of the building on it would have
lost by the change.


196. Various Tactics Have Been Employed in Propagat-
ing the Single Tax. Many direct attempts have been
made to secure the adoption of the single tax program,
while many of the attempts have been indirect and con-
cealed. The use of political campaigns, legislative action,
and general education to the principles have been most
employed. The followers of Henry George have not
always held the same opinion as to the most successful
method of propaganda, nor was Mr. George always of the
same mind. The scheme which has had the most promise
of success at a particular time and place has been the one
generally used.

Early Propaganda. -The first active campaign for the
adoption of the principles of Progress and Poverty was
staged by Mr. George in the political campaign for the
election of Mayor of New York City in 1886. His book
had had a wide reading among the laboring classes, and
he had come to be looked upon as the champion of the
oppressed and downtrodden. He was chosen as the peo-
ple's candidate for mayor, after he had refused to accept
the nomination unless thirty thousand signatures could
be obtained in favor of his making the race. The issues
of the campaign were clear-cut, and while Mr. George
and his principles were defeated, the magnitude of the
vote which they commanded indicates what a hold they
had gained upon the people. Mr. George received 68,100
votes, while the other candidates, Mr. Hewitt and Mr.
Roosevelt, received 90,552 and 60,435, respectively. En-
couraged by the large vote, candidates were entered hi
future campaigns, both in state and in city elections, and
at times the principles have entered actively into national
political campaigns. Mr. George again entered the New
York City mayoralty race in 1897, but died a few days
before the election. Death was no doubt due to over-
exertion during the campaign.

Educational Campaign. The basis for a general educa-
tional campaign lies in the gifts of persons of means who


have been interested in the movement. The most im-
portant provision for the educational work is the Joseph
Fels Fund, started by Joseph Fels a rich soap manufac-
turer of Cincinnati. He created funds, not only in the
United States, but in various other countries, offering to
match every dollar up to certain amounts that others
might contribute. From the resources thus provided,
much literature has been distributed, and the financing of
many campaigns has been made possible. A number of
periodicals have been established which are devoted to
the dissemination of single tax principles.

Legislative Attempts. In recent years much effort, tune,
and money have been spent in attempting to secure legis-
lation, which, while it has not been directly single tax
proposals, will form an entering wedge for the adoption
of the principles. Movements to secure the initiative
and referendum have been actively supported by those
who are interested in the development of the single tax.
Much money from the Fels Fund has been spent to secure
the adoption of these principles in different states. Where
the initiative exists, the opportunity for conducting cam-
paigns through the circulation of petitions is made pos-
sible, and the way is opened for more extensive educa-
tional operations. All propositions which have for their
end the separate assessment of land and buildings have
of course had the active indorsement of all single tax
enthusiasts. Such assessments bring into closer review
the so-called unearned land values.

Attempt to Secure Local Option. The proposition which
has been most heartily supported when it has come before
the legislative body, and the one whose adoption the
single taxers have labored most strenuously to secure, is
what is generally called home rule, or local option, in
taxation. It is the proposal to allow the various political
units to be self-determining on matters of taxation. The
belief is held that, if this be secured, some districts would
decide to adopt the single tax principles, and that others


would then be impelled or compelled to follow their ex-
ample. In some of the campaigns for securing this prin-
ciple, the propaganda has been openly of a single tax
nature, while in others there has been an attempt at
the concealment of this aspect. The method which
seemed to indicate the most favorable results has usually
been followed. The end and not the means has seemed
to be the important consideration in most single tax
campaigns. It is the consensus of opinion that most of
the campaigns would not have been waged had it not
been for single tax influences.

Aside from the legislative activities, the single tax en-
thusiasts are becoming more active in putting candidates
in the political campaigns. In some states the Single Tax
Party has become a force of considerable strength. The
fact that a National single tax ticket appeared on the
ballots hi the November, 1920, election, is evidence that
the political ambitions are not local in scope.

A number of single tax clubs and organizations scat-
tered over the country continually attempt to scatter
single tax influences. These organizations, moreover,
keep alert to any political or economic conditions which
will favor the adoption of their principles. Lecture bu-
reaus have been established to place speakers before in-
fluential meetings. Many novel schemes of advertising
have been used at various times. As a whole, the move-
ment can be characterized as one of active propaganda
from the beginning.

197. The Single Tax Campaign in Oregon Did Not
Show Substantial Results. When Joseph Fels established
his fund for single tax propaganda, it was his purpose to
have the single tax in actual operation somewhere in the
United States within five years, and to this end the com-
mission hi charge of the fund began operations. Because
the state of Oregon presented the most fruitful prospects,
all efforts were concentrated there for the time being.
Because of the strenuous fight which was waged, and the


methods which were used, a somewhat detailed account
of the contest will not be out of place, even in a book of
this nature.

The factor which led the Fels Fund Commission to
choose Oregon as its base of operations was the fact that
a substantial single tax interest was already manifest
there. Through an initiative petition the single tax work-
ers succeeded in submitting a constitutional amendment
to popular vote in 1908. The amendment, to a large ex-
tent, embodied single tax principles, and the campaign
was openly a single tax one. The amendment did not
carry, but the vote in its favor was so large that its sup-
porters were encouraged to look for victory in the not far
distant future. An interesting feature of the vote, espe-
cially to those who supported the measure, was that the
county in which Portland is located almost rendered an
affirmative decision.

Struggle for Local Option. From the indications of the
vote on this amendment, it seemed likely that the single
tax could be installed in some of the counties if by some
means county local option could be secured in Oregon.
In 1910, therefore, the following amendment was pre-
sented to the voters:

No poll or head tax shall be levied or collected in Oregon; no bill
regulating taxation or exemption throughout the state shall become a
law until approved by the people of the state at a regular general elec-
tion; none of the restrictions of the Constitution shall apply to meas-
ures approved by the people declaring what shall be subject to taxa-
tion and exemption and how it shall be taxed or exempted, whether
proposed by the Legislative Assembly or by initiative petition; but
the people of the several counties are hereby empowered and author-
ized to regulate taxation and exemptions within their several counties,
subject to any general law which may be hereafter enacted. 1

Unlike the previous campaign, the contest over this
amendment was not carried through on a single tax basis.
The single tax nature was kept in the background, while

of Oregon Board of State Tax Commissioners, 1911.


the amendment and its title were worded so as to appeal
to a large constituency. The poll tax feature, for exam-
ple, attracted many voters because of the general dis-
tastefulness of these taxes. The result was that the
amendment carried by a small majority.

The adoption of this amendment but marked the be-
ginning of the real single tax fight. The opponents of
the measure arose in disgust and declared the people had
been fooled and hoodwinked. The victors became radiant,
threw off their cloak of disguise, and exultingly declared
it was the greatest victory that had ever been won for
the single tax principles. They immediately announced
the single tax as the leading issue of the next election.
Under the local option amendment, measures were brought
forth in three counties to exempt all improvements and
personal property from taxation. A state single tax meas-
ure was also submitted. A furious bombardment of lit-
erature and speeches came from both contending forces.
When the polls finally gave the results of the battle it
was found that the amendments had been overwhelmingly
defeated. A few other attempts have been made at amend-
ments, but they were defeated until 1918, when the State
Tax Commission succeeded in getting some changes sub-
mitted and adopted. Provision is made for uniformity of
taxation, and for the levying and collection of taxes under
general laws which are to operate uniformly throughout
the state.

198. The Advocates of the Single Tax Have Been Active
in Other States. While one of the most important battles
for the single tax was staged in Oregon, much activity has
been found in other states. Campaigns of more or less
intensity have been carried on in some of the other Western
states, principally Washington, California, Colorado, and
Missouri. Much the same tactics have been used as in the
Oregon campaigns, with the same general results. Seattle
voted down the proposition on two successive occasions.
The city of Everett, on the other hand, voted in favor of


its adoption. The State Tax Commission of Washington,
however, ruled such a proposition to be unconstitutional,
and the ruling has never been questioned.

The propaganda for single tax adoption has been carried
on somewhat extensively among cities of Colorado, since
they are granted a large measure of home rule. In only
one case has a favorable vote been secured. This was in
the city of Pueblo, but before the measure had a chance
to work itself out it was repealed. The people of Cali-
fornia, through an initiative petition, voted upon a single
tax amendment in 1916, and definitely refused to adopt
it. Somewhat earlier a strenuous campaign was staged in
Missouri to secure the adoption of a state single tax
amendment. Here, again, an attempt was made to con-
ceal the identity of the propagators. The opposition was
not to be deceived, and directed a vigorous anti-single tax
campaign. The result was an overwhelming defeat of the

Situation in Eastern States. The economic conditions
in the Eastern states differ somewhat from the conditions
in the Western states, consequently the methods used in
propagating the single tax have not always been the same.
The state of New York has always been the source of
much agitation. Some of the so-called tax reform asso-
ciations have been active for a number of years in at-
tempting to secure legislation favorable to the single tax
creed. The separate assessment of land and buildings has
been secured, while repeated attempts have been made to
secure a reduction of the assessment on buildings. So
far the legislature has turned a deaf ear to such appeals.

The legislature of Pennsylvania has the distinction of
first authorizing a reduction of the assessment on build-
ings. In 1913, it provided for a gradual decrease of build-
ing assessments for cities of the second class Scranton
and Pittsburg until by 1925 the rate was to be 50 per
cent of that on land. Two years later the law was re-
pealed, but the repeal was vetoed by the Governor on the


ground that there was so much conflict of opinion, and
that the law had not been tried a sufficient length of time
to prove its merits or defects. The law continues to be
in force, and the deductions in assessment are being made
as provided for.

Many other examples might be given of the activities of
these disciples of the taxation of land values. In some
states, especially in New York, preparations are being
made for waging still more aggressive campaigns. The
failure to have accomplished any material results in the
past has but spurred the leaders to greater activity. One
other enterprise, somewhat different from the undertak-
ings which have been discussed in the preceding para-
graphs, deserves brief consideration. This is the Fair-
hope single tax colony, which is often pointed out as the
blueprint of the single tax ideal.

The Fairhope Colony. The holdings of the Fairhope
Single Tax Corporation consist of several thousand acres
of land located in Alabama. The members in the asso-
ciation attain this privilege by the payment of a fee, and
then lease the village site or farm land from the corpora-
tion. The lease price is determined by the differential
advantage of the site, or land. No other taxes are col-
lected upon the buildings and improvements. In spite of
criticisms which have arisen from some of the members,
the project seems to have prospered. Perhaps, however, it
would have developed under other systems of ownership
and taxes. Henry George would attach little importance
to any success which it might claim, because he did not
believe the single tax could be fairly tried on a small scale
in districts where other fiscal systems prevailed.

199. The Single Tax Has Found Adherents Outside the
United States. The single tax movement has not been
confined to the United States. In fact, when adherents of
the proposal wish to cite examples of its successful opera-
tion, they invariably choose them from the cities and prov-
inces of western Canada. In a number of these towns and


cities land has been practically the sole object of taxation,
and under the system the country, towns, and cities grew
and prospered. Land values rose rapidly, the taxes were
comparatively low, and the burden of providing for the
needs of the public purse was scarcely felt. The cities of
the United States, especially in the West, have been
urged, if they would be prosperous, to throw off the octo-
pus of taxing improvements and adopt the system used
by Vancouver or Edmonton.

Situation in Canada. Present reports from experts who
have made a study of the situation, and from the officials
themselves, indicate that the tax system in these Cana-
dian cities is becoming far from satisfactory. Land values
are ceasing to rise in the accustomed ratio, which auto-
matically affects revenues. The justice of exempting rich
brokers, bankers, and merchants from taxes is being
questioned by an increasing number of citizens. An offi-
cial of the city of Edmonton has just pointed out the fact
that when land values are rising rapidly, and taxes are
low, the system works admirably; but that now land
values are not increasing, while the need for revenue is
increasing. Other sources of revenue must be found or
the taxes on land will become unbearable.

A few figures will indicate the present condition of Van-
couver's prosperity when land values cease to rise rapidly.
In 1912 building permits reached over $19,000,000, but
in a few years had fallen to less than $2,500,000. Tax
arrears were about $510,000 in 1912, $4,220,000 in 1916,
and $5,038,000 in 1918. The mill tax rate has gone up
from about 16 to nearly 25. The debt has gone from
$22,500,000 in 1912 to $40,000,000 in 1918. 1 In a number
of cities the rate is being increased to such an extent that
refusal to pay the tax is the result, and numerous lots are
being taken over in payment for taxes. It has been
pointed out by many observers that these conditions do
not prevail in the eastern cities, which have not been

affected by the magic of the single tax. It is significant
that, in a recent Ottawa municipal election, the proposi-
tion to adopt the single tax as a basis for her revenue
system was defeated by a three to one vote.

It is becoming increasingly evident that the claims that
have been made for the tax system of western Canada
can no longer be substantiated. A marked dissatisfaction
with the system is becoming more apparent. Marked
ability to pay taxes is seen among the class of bankers,
merchants, and manufacturers, yet they frequently escape
almost entirely. Demands are being made that these
classes, who are enjoying the benefits of the government,
contribute to its support, and future fiscal development
may be expected to take the direction of an extension of
the bases for the levy of taxes.

The Principle in Europe. Some of the principles of the
single tax may be found in use hi some European and
Asiatic countries, yet these features have no place as a
part of the Henry George single tax movement. The
Lloyd George scheme for land taxes of 1909 has been
pointed out as a single tax achievement. In reality it
was simply a plan to secure some return from the vast
estates which were being held tax-free, since taxes had
been assessed upon the annual rental instead of upon
capital value. The unearned increment tax has been used
extensively, however, in Germany and Australia.

200. The Single Tax Agitation Has Emphasized Defects
in Our Fiscal System. Most economists and fiscal au-
thorities condemn the theoretical and practical principles
of the single tax, yet none will deny that the agitation has
served to emphasize some of the defects of our fiscal sys-
tem. The evils and discrepancies of general property
taxes have been forcefully portrayed. Examples are not
infrequent of where the low assessment of unoccupied
lands and sites has been a factor in stimulating specula-
tion. It has been shown, too, that increased values and
abilities have arisen, and that they have not been made

to bear their fair share of the tax burden. Such portrayals
should inspire the authorities to reach these sources
through more accurate valuations, and to make exactions
from property when its ability to bear tax burdens be-
cause of the action of society can be actually measured.
Much can be done to eliminate the evils which the single
taxers portray, however, without the confiscation of land

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