The Tax We Need
[Part 2 of 2]
The greatest proponent of LVT has been Henry George (1839-97), an
American from Philadelphia who went to sea at 14, became an editor in
San Francisco and was living in poverty there when he wrote his main
Progress and Poverty (1879), an instant success which was for
a time the most widely sold book ever written on economics. He ran for
mayor of New York in 1886, losing by 68,000-90,000. He visited Ireland
and England, giving well attended public speeches on land taxation. In
1890 he made another voyage, this time to Australia, with a stop in a
harbor in New Zealand. Queensland province promptly in 1891 voted for
LVT and has kept it to this day. In New Zealand, which had twice had
LVT already, a new struggle for it began, supported by prime minister
Ballance and his successor Saddon, for a bill to allow land-value
taxation, which finally passed In 1896. A 5% land-value tax has
gradually been voted in since then in all the larger N.Z. places
except Auckland. Henry George was running again for mayor of New York
City when he died.
Wholly self-taught in economics, George sometimes slipped into
errors. His main blunder was ambiguity as to who should own the land.
Repeatedly he said it should be the community at large, but close
reading shows he only meant the rent should go to the community and
that this should be collected by taxation. He was not a revolutionary
nor any sort of socialist, though he sometimes sounded like one and
attracted a radical element among his followers.
Other items in his thought need correcting:.
He included wages but not money in wealth -- but wages are
money. Actually, George used the terms wealth, capital,
interest in the sense of community assets such as food,
shelter etc., which do not vary in usefulness as paper money does
according to fluctuations in the market. There are sound economic
reasons for considering things from this aspect, but to the average
reader it is bound to be confusing. [SCI editor comment: Henry George
wrote as a scientist rather than as a polemicist. Political economy,
as treated by George, is a closed system in which money is an
important externality but is not considered as wealth. As is
often the case, a full understanding of a scientific discipline
demands acceptance of definitions that differ from everyday usage of
George believed rising population is always good! He said London
could reach 1 billion and the earth 1 trillion without hardship. In
this century hardly anyone would say such things. He was assuming
people would have adopted the land-value tax. LVT is good -- but not
He said population ebbs and flows. That was true till 1800. Not
since. See my book 3000 Years of Urban Growth for
comprehensive data on this subject.
He claimed no ancient code advocated stationary population, but Plato
tells us Athens kept its population deliberately stable for centuries
[Critias 112 A-D].
He said China had been formerly more populous than in his day. Not
so. Chinese census data, going back to 2 A.D., prove the country had a
fairly steady population until about 1700, when it began a rather
rapid 5-fold growth.
He claimed the British created tax-farming in India. Actually the
British found it already there and, thanks to Thomas Munre, abolished
it in the large Madras and Bombay provinces, an immense blessing which
was duly appreciated at the time.
Henry George denied wages vary inversely with interest, as economists
have always taught. The example he used was Australia. He failed to
see that in newly opened-up Australia there was unusually high demand
for both labor and capital, so both could stay high at once.
None of these slips invalidates the truth of George's central
message. Land-value taxation is as fair, worthwhile, and necessary as
he said it was, and in a peaceful world it might quite possibly serve
as a Single Tax, as he hoped.
Henry George summed up his acceptance of free enterprise as follows:
We see no evil in competition, but deem unrestricted
competition to be as necessary to the industrial and social organism
as the free circulation of blood is to the health of the bodily
organism -- to be the agency whereby the fullest cooperation is to
be secured. We would simply take for the community what belongs to
the community, the value that attaches to land by the growth of the
community; leave sacredly to the individual all that belongs to the
individual; and treating necessary monopolies as functions of the
state, abolish all restrictions and prohibitions save those required
for public health, morality, and convenience.[Henry
George, The Condition of Labor]
Marxism or Georgism
Capitalism in its usual form is highly productive, but has its
drawbacks. It limits ownership to a few, tends to exploit most of the
rest, keeps some unemployed, and every now and then the whole system
breaks down in a depression. Many of the brighter youths in each
generation recoil instinctively from such a system.
Karl Marx and other Socialists suggested society be structured with
jobs for all, arranged by central planning. Thus the profits of
society would be distributed more equally. The strong would tend to
support the weak. There is no denying the idealistic appeal of this
plan. The early Christians had much the same idea. As Luke put it in
the Bible at Acts 4:35: "To each man according to his needs."
The French Socialist Louis Blanc expanded this into: "From each
according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."
Unfortunately, Socialist planning turns out to require a considerable
bureaucracy. This bureaucracy tends toward inefficiency, because it is
far removed from actual production or commerce, and also because its
operations are so vast as to be rather hard to handle at all. As I
like to put it, "How does the chap at Moscow know what is going
on in Minsk?" A certain rigidity sets in, and over half the
Socialist regimes have been outright dictatorships. Productivity
simply cannot keep up with the most advanced free-enterprise
countries. Thus 37,000,000 Russian farmers produce less than 4,000,000
U.S. ones [
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 22, 1978],
and Russia has to buy grain from us and other free-enterprise nations.
Even the Social Democracies have big bureaucracies to support by
taxes, which weigh on business and push up the price of goods.
Henry George found a way out of this bureaucratic impasse. He wanted
a Single Tax, based on the sales value of land. This tax would force
unused or under-used land into full service, creating a sound urban
core In every city, instead of the slums which other-wide arise under
capitalism. His tax operates with a very small bureaucracy, as a tax
on land only is very easy to assess and collect, and other
bureaucratic services such as welfare, jails, etc. would become
largely unnecessary. At the same time the freedom from all other taxes
would be a godsend to business and would enable many more men to find
Usually Georgism and Marxism are presented as enemies, and they do
indeed start from opposite premises: one for less planning, the other
for more. Yet George himself agreed that essential services should be
run by the state, and he included in these such things as railways and
utilities, on the ground that these are monopolies like land. In fact,
taxing them on LVT lines would do as well.
A look at the tabulated map In Time, March 13, 1976, shows
that Socialist dictatorships now do about as well in living standards
as nearby capitalist countries. It shows the Social Democracies do
even better -- Scandinavia etc. The countries with Henry George's
land-value tax (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Taiwan, Kenya)
are among the best. Thus Kenya has the highest living standard in all
black-ruled Africa. The United Nations Statistical Yearbook
shows New Zealand, in the latest year for which figures were
available, 1975, had only 0.3% unemployed -- better than twice as good
as the next nations (Iceland .7; Norway 1.3; Sweden 1.4) -- and that
was a rather poor year for New Zealand, owing to the sharp rise in oil
prices which made it expensive to get her goods to market. In 1966 and
1974 N.Z. had an unemployment rate of less than 1 in 1,000 workers!
And even there, the land-value tax of only 5% stops short of Henry
George's objective of taking all profit out of land speculation for
the use of the government. [from my "Current
Problems," March 1979]
George vs Marshall
In Feb. 1883 a debate was held at Oxford University between Henry
George and Alfred Marshall. Lengthy notes were taken and have been
lately published in the
Journal of Law and Economics, 1969.
Marshall spoke first. Only 40, he was an Oxford don and was beginning
to build his reputation as a leading conservative economist. He opened
up by claiming George had said the only remedy was to divide up the
land, an inaccurate statement, as George's program was to tax the
land, not to seize it.
Marshall went on that George had fallen into error because of lack of
training -- a slur based on the fact that George was self-taught. At
this point there were cries of "Hear, hear", "No, no,"
and an uproar. Getting around to economics, he said George's Single
Tax on land value wouldn't bring in enough revenue because British
taxes totaled £100,000,000 and ground rent totaled only £60,000,000.
George replied that with a Single Tax many expenses would be saved. He
mentioned some of these later on. Savings would be on assessment, tax
collection, and -- because of better land use and less hampering of
business by other taxes -- business would become more productive.
Whether these changes would have sufficed to balance the budget Is an
interesting question, and it's too bad it wasn't discussed further.
Marshall claimed things were going alright anyway. He claimed
conditions were improving for British workers because their average
pay in 1730 would buy only 2 pecks of grain but now would buy 5. In a
letter to him afterward Alfred Wallace pointed out that workers in
1730 enjoyed better living conditions on the farm. Someone should have
added that the main change was in rent, as Ricardo had shown; thus a
worker may have the price of 5 peeks but have to pay 3 pecks' worth
for rent, leaving him no better off than before.
By this time Marshall's arrogant cracks had hotted the meeting up
considerably, but George began his own speech tactfully. Someone
taking notes summed up his statement:
What he proposed was simply that they should levy their
taxes on the value of land, and exempt all buildings and
improvements. The tax on the value of land -- as they all knew, who
knew anything about economics -- was certainly the best of taxes,
Inasmuch as it was a tax which could be collected with less expense,
with less danger of corruption; it was a tax which bore less upon
production, which, in fact, did not bear on production at all --
(cries of "oh, oh") -- which in fact was a tax which
stimulated production, for one of the reasons which kept production
back was the holding of land by people who did not want to use it,
those who prevented others from using it until they could get a very
high price for it."
That was a good summary of George's position, and certainly a long
way from the expropriation of land, which Marshall had accused him of
wanting. However, in answer to a question, George slipped into just
that. He said he would take land from landlords without any
compensation except their equal share. This sounded like seizing the
land and divying it up, as a few radicals had already suggested and as
in essence Lenin was later to do. Small wonder that the meeting at
that point broke up in an uproar! [from my "Current Problems,"
The private ownership of land is moral only when the rental income
from land is fully taxed by the government.
Here is the basic proposition: a landowner as landowner produces
nothing, yet has an income. If he has an income without producing
anything, then others must necessarily produce without getting a full
return for their efforts.
Q. But most landowners own buildings or raise crops.
A. Quite so, and in such capacities they are entitled to a full
return for their labor and labor products. [Cord, p. 78]
The rental value of land at any particular location measures
precisely what the advantages of community living, determined in the
property market, are deemed to be worth at that location.
Payment of this rental value to the community by each individual
landholder is therefore logical, equitable and just. The rental value
of land from year to year is thus the natural source for public
revenue and community enrichment: its private capitalization into land
price is both un-natural and un-just. [
K. N. Grigg, quoted in Cord, p. 78]
Endorsers of Taxing Land, Not Buildings
The ones before Henry George (1879) thought in terms of farmland, not
realizing there is even more value in the site aspect of urban land.
[mostly compiled by Cord, pp. 101-2]
- Balfour, A. J., British prime minister
- Ballance, John, prime minister of New Zealand
- Black, Hugo, on U.S. supreme court
- Brandels, on U.S. supreme court,/li>
- Campbell-Bannerman, British prime minister
- Carlyle, historian,/li>
- Chiang Kai-shek, established LVT on Taiwan
- Dewey, John, philosopher
- Fels, Joseph, businessman
- Franklin (last address to the French)
- George, Henry
- George, Lloyd - see under Lloyd
- Grey, George, prime minister of New Zealand
- Gung Yu (124-44 B.C.), Chinese official
- Hutchins, Robert, educator
- Huxley, Aldous (introduction to later editions of his "Brave
- Jefferson, Thomas
- Johnson, Tom, mayor of Cleveland
- Kahn, Alfred, advisor to president Carter
- Kerensky, Russian prime minister
- Lincoln, Abraham
- Lloyd George, David, British prime minister
- Locke, John
- Madero, president of Mexico
- Mill, James, economist
- Mill, John Stuart, economist
- Myrdal, Gunnar, economist
- Nash, Walter, prime minister of New Zealand
- Oppenheimer, Franz, planned Israel's kibbutzes
- Paine, Thomas
- Penn, William (law of 1683, and "Fruits of Solitude,"
1693, II, p. 222)
- Porter, Sylvia, columnist on finance
- Prentice, Perry, editor
- Quesnay, Francois, economist
- Reuss, Henry, chairman of Congress's banking committee
- Rivadavia, president of Argentina
- Roosevelt, Franklin D.
- Roosevelt, Theodore (in Century magazine, Oct. 1913)
- Russell, Bertrand
- Shaw, George Bernard
- Sinclair, Upton, author, nearly elected governor of California
- Steffens, Lincoln, Journalist
- Sun Yat-sen, first president of China
- Szent-Gyorgi, Nobel Prize winner
- Tolstoy, Leo
- Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques, economist and statesman
- U'Ren, originator of direct election of senators
- Ward, Barbara, author
- Wilson, Woodrow
- Wright, Frank Lloyd, architect
Some Quotations from Celebrities
Benedict Spinoza (1632-77) "The fiscal base should be
a single tax. The fields and the whole soil and, if it can be
managed, the houses [Chandler note: He erred in including houses]
should be public property -- let at a yearly rent to the citizens.
Let them be free of every other form of taxation in time of peace."
John Locke (1632-1704) "Whenever the proprietor
ceases to be the improver, political economy has nothing to say in
defense of landed property."
Tom Paine (1737-1809) "Men did not make the earth.
...It is the value of improvements only, and not the earth itself,
that is individual property. Every proprietor owes to the community
a ground rent for the land which he holds."
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) "The land belongs in
usufruct to the living. ...Whenever there are in any country
unculivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of
property have been so far extended as to violate natural rights."
John Stuart Mill (1806-73) "Landlords grow richer in
their sleep without working, risking or economizing."
Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) "An individual or company
acquiring land should hold no more than is required for their home
and sustenance and never more than they have in actual use in the
prudent management of their legitimate business."
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) "People do not argue with the
teaching of George; they simply do not know it. He who becomes
acquainted with it cannot but agree."
Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) "I intend to devote my future
to the welfare of the Chinese people. ...The teachings of Henry
George will be the basis of our program."
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) "The landowner's
unearned increment is too often in direct proportion to the
disservice he has done the community by holding his land off the
market when it was needed for orderly development."
Ralph Nader (1934- ) Nader's Tax Reform Research Group
sees "much merit in site-value tax, as an instrument both of
tax equity and of desirable patterns of land use. It seems
especially fair for the community to take back in the form of taxes,
the value it, and it alone, bestows on land through the construction
of highways, transit lines, sewers, and through the provision of
Judge Ralston's Try for LVT
Jackson Ralston, 1857-1945, a mainly self-taught lawyer, was called "Judge"
because he once presided over a Hague Tribunal. His significance was
as a Henry Georgist Single Taxer.
He got Hyattsvllle, Md., to become the first place in the U.S. to try
the Single Tax 1893-4. This worked well but was unfavorably reviewed
in a lower court, and was dropped.
He retired to California 1924, as a series of efforts to get the
Single Tax by initiative was ending. In 1912 and 1914 it had drawn 40%
of the vote. This was for an enabling law to let each locality tax as
it saw fit. The next try, for a compulsory law to remove all tax from
buildings throughout the state, got only 31% in 1916, and 24% in 1918.
A still more radical effort, to make all land state-owned, was beaten
down with only 20% of the vote in 1920 and 1922. Ralston had a big
hand in getting the Georgists to drop this Bolshevist idea in 1924.
In 1933 judge Ralston took the lead in reviving the mild enabling
act. The Depression was deepening, so the time was ripe. Just as
Joseph Fels had financed the 1912-4 campaigns, so Ralston financed
this one, from his life's savings. But he fell just short of the
required 110,000 valid signatures, so his initiative didn't get on the
ballot. Upton Sinclair ran for governor that year, including a plank
for a land-value tax. He lost in a 3-way election, though he got 38%
of the vote.
In 1936 Ralston tried again. Realtors opposed him with scare lines
such as "Kill That Single Tax or Starve" and with outright
lies such as that the Single Tax had failed in New Zealand and
Australia -- where of course there is no Single Tax but land-value
taxation was thriving and is doing so to this day. Indeed the
land-value tax is one reason why those countries weathered the
Depression so much better than the U.S. did. The utility companies,
which might have gained by the tax, 57 opposed it, perhaps because
Ralston had gotten APL and CIO support, and union leaders were thought
to be radical (some like Bridges were). The press was practically all
hostile, partly because the main newspaper owners, Hearst and Harry
Chandler (no relation of mine) were among the largest landowners. Noah
Alper, Ralaton's right-hand helper, started a Georgist paper but got
out only 2 issues. Anyway Ralston this time managed to collect enough
valid signatures -- but the opponents got his initiative petition
thrown out in court because its short title failed to mention the tax
transfer from buildings to land. This was a fair objection. Yet other
short titles had been inadequate, and had been accepted. One judge,
dissenting, said the disqualification was for "hyper-technical
and captious reasons." Once more the voters were denied a chance
to decide the issue.
Ralston kept trying. At age 81 he mounted a new effort. Realtors sent
men to frustrate his signature-collectors by buying them off or
offering them jobs if they would quit. Yet Ralston got the necessary
signatures, and his carefully re-worded amendment got on the ballot.
Alas, his private funds of $25,000 were practically used up, and
contributions were slim. For the actual campaign between registration
and the election 3 months later only $2,500 was available, while the
opposition spent an estimated $250,000. Money is apt to tell.
Ralston's amendment drew only 20% of the vote, partly because public
attention was focused on the "ham-and-eggs" proposal to pay
$50 a week to all over 50, which barely lost.
Jim Echols thinks Ralston had no real prospect of success and that
other Georgists will fail too unless they hide the fact that they are
Georgists. Considering that the opposition will know at once what they
are, such hiding seems ridiculous. Anyway Georgism is nothing to be
ashamed of. LVT is working splendidly in Australia and New Zealand
etcetera. Anyhow, the 1930s were a time of especially dirty
conservative politics in California, as is well documented in Upton
I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked (1935). Now in
post-Watergate years, standards should be somewhat higher, giving the
land-value tax a chance.
Times have indeed changed. Economists are now virtually unanimous in
favoring a land-value tax. And Perry Prentice has led the U.S. Chamber
of Commerce into printing his defense of this tax, and a similar
article by Breckenfeld was printed in Fortune for March 1977.
Henry George's support is now perhaps as much from the right as from
the left. This alliance of the productive wings of society should be
put to use. The time for Georgist changes in state constitutions is
now! [from my "Current Problems," Jan. 1979, condensed,
based on Jim Echols's thesis (1967, Fresno]
Property Tax in Ireland
In Ireland the potato crop failed, causing famine in 1845-7.
Practically all the land was owned by Englishmen. These were taxed
extra to pay the cost of relief. Part of the tax was on houses. So the
landlords got out of paying the house tax by flattening the crude
cottages (mere huts) in which their Irish tenants lived. It is true
the landlords since 1838 had been hoping tenants would emigrate so the
land would be free for sheep-farming. Even so, had the land alone been
taxed, probably a good many cottages would have been spared.
As it was, in 1845 there had been in Ireland 310,375 tenancies of 1
to 5 acres; ten years later there were 88,083. So 222, 292 cottages
were "tumbled" -- leveled by crowbar brigades, often under
Nearly 1,000,000 Irish died -- some by famine, some from losing their
homes. 2,600,000 emigrated to America, Australia, etc. The motive for
the evictions was clearly in part the Poor Rate's tax on homes. [
from O'Regan, Rating in New Zealand,
1972, pp. 9-10, condensed]
Property Tax in England
The English property tax is based on the amount of rent collected.
Vacant land tends to be untaxed. Recently a modern building in the
heart of London was left unoccupied 7 years and paid no rates (taxes).
Described as the most expensive dog-kennel in Europe, the building,
known as "Centre Point," was occupied only by guard dogs.
The property magnates had discovered an empty skyscraper increases in
value faster than one encumbered by tenants' leases. Happily, the law
at London was changed in 1969 to put a tax on vacant land.
A further difficulty in England is that rent control makes it hard to
know what the market value of houses should be. Partly for this
reason, assessments have been too infrequent. The only ones since 1934
have been in 1956 and 1963.
In 1929 farm land became 100% de-rated. This deprived the government
of 60,000,000 pounds a year. That leaves too little revenue for local
government, so 60% of that now comes from the central government. [
O'Regan, pp. 3, 13, condensed]
Property Tax in the U.S.
In the U.S. the situation is if anything worse. Assessment is legally
set at less than market value in many states, as little as 20% in
Arkansas. Urban buildings are frequently abandoned because the low tax
rate lets the owner profit more this way than if he put them to use.
Such under-taxation means a huge loss of potential city revenue.
Exemptions make matters still worse. In Boston 50% of properties are
tax-exempt. American assessors are untrained and quite often corrupt.
20 states, like Britain till 1840, still tax personal property, that
is, movable goods [O'Regan had 21, but California dropped this tax in
1979]. So businessmen move inventories out on trucks or boats when
warned the assessor is coming. [
O'Regan, pp. 15-9, condensed]
Land taxes provided 50% of all U.S. tax revenues in 1879 but only 2%
now. [Perry Prentice, lecture Aug. 23, 1979]
The impact of Jarvis will be discussed later.
Property Tax in New Zealand
In Wellington as early as 1849 an Ordinance provided for rates to be
on the estimated value of land, defined to exclude homes. There were
similar Ordinances in Nelson, New Plymouth, and Otago provinces. These
are the first known instances of a property tax on land only. They
were the work of Gibbon Wakefield, New'Zealand's founder, based on
Gourlay's book. O'Regan justifiably exults:
It was a milestone on the road to progress. ...The
handful of settlers in this most remote of European settlements ...
purged ... taxation of its inherent weakness. They had made a
contribution to social theory and practical administration which was
to prove of immense importance in the development of Australia and
New Zealand. ...Indeed, unless this principle is applied to the
cities of the United States and England there is very little
prospect of the urban problem improving in any substantial degree
without radical restrictions on the proper rights of property and
the liberty of the individual. [O'Regan, p.
When Vogel abolished New Zealand's provinces in 1876, the N.Z.
parliament by a committee vote of 41-36 barely decided against making
local taxes fall on land only. This marked a backward step in the 4
above-named provinces. And it meant barely missing a gigantic step
Ballance aad Grey put through a tax on unused land 1878, but it was
A law of 1882 required that assessors be specially trained. As
assessment is always difficult (though much easier when homes are left
out of it), this law has been very useful. Thanks to it, New Zealand
has had practically no trouble from favoritism or corruption in
In 1890 Henry George passed by New Zealand on his way from the U.S.
to Australia, where he persuaded Queensland to adopt the land-value
tax in 1891. As his ship lay in Wellington harbor, New Zealand's
former governor and premier George Grey, a strong supporter of the
land-value tax, came on beard and warmly greeted him.
Henry George's meeting with Grey may have stirred up the land-value
taxers, for in 1893 Joseph Ward introduced a bill to exempt houses
from the property tax. Premier Dick Seddon supported the bill, which
passed the House in 1894 and 1895, and in 1896 finally cleared the
Legislative Council or upper house to become law. It was however only
an enabling law, allowing municipalities to go over to taxing only
land, if they wanted to. Thus conditions could return to what they had
been in the 4 progressive provinces before 1876. Change under the new
law has been gradual but steady. Wellington voted for it in 1901.
Christohurch 1903. 40% of New Zealand's municipalities had it by 1920.
Dunedin adopted it 1953. An attempt to carry it in Auckland in 1963
failed, though it is much needed for urban renewal there. By 1973 some
74% of New Zealand had it. Counting both local and national taxes, New
Zealand collects 7% of all taxes from land value, probably the most of
Under the land value tax, the city center, with its high site value,
bears the heaviest portion of the tax. Consequently, if an outlying
borough merges with the city, its tax burden becomes less!
This is a very great inducement for a neighboring borough
to join the city and there is no doubt that this has happened in
Wellington consistently and this is the reason why Wellington ... is
a strong city administratively and financially. [O'Regan,
One cannot help contrasting this healthy condition with our American
cities where the suburbs fearfully avoid joining the steadily rotting
New Zealand has enjoyed general peace and exceptionally able leaders.
Even so, her high standing among nations must owe something to her
system of taxation. In 1966 and 1974 her unemployment was under .1 of
1% -- a mark not even remotely approached by any other free nation.
Murder and rape are lower there than in any other reporting country.
It really does pay to use the only tax that automatically cleans up
the slums! If the proof is in the pudding, then we could do well to
start cooking along New Zealander 1ine s.
Property Tax in Taiwan
Land-value taxation was first used in China by the Germans In
Kiaochow enclave including Tsingtao port 1898-1914, beginning before
it was applied anywhere in Germany and much more thoroughly than it
was ever applied in Germany. The man responsible was the administrator
Ludwig Schrameier. His rate was 6%.
It was from Kiaochow that Sun Yat-sen learned about LVT. He went on
to read Henry George's works and became a strong supporter. He
declared a Chinese republic in 1911, but the country was torn apart by
warlords till nearly 1930. In 1930 his followers put LVT into the
Chinese Constitution. By 1937 not only Tsingtao but also Canton,
Shanghai, Nanking, Hangchow, and Nanchang had it. But new wars wracked
China, and in 1949 the government headed by Chiang had to move to
On Taiwan, land-value taxation was applied to the farms in 1950. This
proved successful, so in 1954 it was applied also to the cities.
The rural tax is 1.5% on pasture, 2-3.6% on rice paddies. On rice
paddies, tax payment is in rice only.
The urban tax rises from 1-1/2% on the smallest lots to 1% on the
largest, except that these are halved if the owner resides on the
land. Factory sites pay 1-1/2%. Wherever buildings are worth less than
10% as much as the land, the site is deemed vacant, and taxed 2-5
times as much -- to bring the land into full use. Probably a flat 6%
rate for all land would work just as well, and involve a lot less
phenagling as people try to qualify for the lower rates.
Unfortunately, too, assessment has been 30-50% below actual value.
Moreover, urban land is not reassessed unless 3 years have passed and
the value has changed over 50%. So there are still factors making for
Buildings are wholly exempt except for a small service charge in the
In Taipei, the capital, special tax notices were sent out in 1968 to
5,632 owners of vacant land. 429 convinced the authorities they were
using the land. Of the rest, 2,600 were brought into use by the owners
by the end of the prescribed 1-year period; the remainder had to pay
the tax. So fast can land come into use when it is adequately taxed. [
Wei-shin King, "Land Taxes in the Republic
of China," paper read at Singapore, Dec. 1974, p. 12]
Taiwan has also a land-value increment tax, collected when the land
is sold. However, this is just a sales tax and not Georgist at all. On
land that has risen 16-fold in value it is a steep 80%, which makes
buying difficult. Moreover it has caused a considerable amount of
cheating on reported sales prices.
Yet the good of the land-value tax has outweighed the bad of the
increment tax. Taiwan has become a remarkably successful country.
Cities on Taiwan have been growing very dynamically for
the past 25 years, and like all cities going through periods of
dynamic growth, values have escalated considerably. Under these
conditions, the land-value tax has been one of the most lucrative in
In addition to property taxes, Taiwan also has a national income
tax, a national sales tax, and operates national monopolies in
tobacco and alcohol. It also runs a very economical government.
Welfare costs are especially low, and the whole society operates on
the basis of "work or else." Plenty of work is available.
The lack of a minimum wage law removes the greatest disincentive to
the employment of unskilled workers at wages commensurate with their
potential, but limited, productivity. This is backed up by a system
of family farms to which urban workers retreat in periods of reduced
activity in the industrial sector. This combination of systems may
not survive prolonged industrialization, but for the past quarter
century it has worked well. Between fiscal prudence and a good tax
system, the cities of Taiwan have been among the few in the world to
have maintained fiscal surpluses in recent years, while carrying out
massive programs of modernization and beautification. [A.
M. Woodruff, "Taiwan Tax System," paper read at Henry
Georgist Conference, Aug. 1979]
Genuine land-value taxes on Taiwan average perhaps 3%, which is
certainly too low. Even so, this land tax, along with the exemption of
houses from any taxation has made it free of slums, like the other LVT
countries. The gross national product per capita is well ahead of any
other Oriental country except Japan, and employment is nearly full:
98.8% in 1980.
Other Taxes -- If Any?
The land and subsoil (oil etc.) taxes are the only ones that help
business, by forcing land etc. into proper use.
All other taxes hurt business. But some have redeeming features.
Thus a tax on liquor and tobacco makes those products more expensive
and therefore tends, however slightly, to reduce their use. A far
better way to treat those menaces to health, though, would be to
prohibit or ration them.
Then there is the income tax. This has been a favorite of reformers,
and it was originally intended to correct inequities in wealth. But
this tax has fallen far short of what it was supposed to do. It has
been backed up by inheritance taxes, but those don't work either, as
the rich often manage to give most of their wealth away while living
-- and gift taxes run counter to the impulse to generosity.
Unfortunately the U.S. Income tax now falls more heavily on the
middle class than on the rich, and some who are very poor have to pay
it when they work on piece-work or on a day basis. Worst of all, it
can be largely evaded by the rich, sometimes entirely. As Plato wrote
many centuries ago, "When there is an income tax, the just man
will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income."
This is done at times by juggling the books or just omitting items. At
other times, complex laws make it possible for a rich man to get off
paying income taxes without breaking any law.
For all these reasons it would be good to do away with the income
tax. Yet it is probably the best way there is to get additional
revenue, beyond what can be taken in by the land-value tax. Knud
Tholstrup, speaking at the Henry Georgist Conference in San Francisco
1979, suggested that as the land-value tax takes in more revenue, the
income tax be correspondingly reduced by raising the level below which
a person would pay nothing at all. So long as the Cold War continues,
there will probably have to be income tax, to pay for the heavy
Steven Cord sums up the drawbacks to taxes aimed at the rich:
The trouble with soaking the rich is that you can't get
much revenue that way. In 1972, a confiscatory 100% tax on annual
income in excess of $50,000 would have yielded only $7.5 billion
[Stewart Alsop in Newsweek, June 19, 1972]. That couldn't
have run the government for a week (and would have killed the
And of course, in the second year such a $50,000-a-year ceiling on
income would produce practically no income at all (who would earn an
income if it were to be immediately confiscated?)
Could we finance extensive government doles with sales or
corporation taxes? Forget it. Such taxes raise the prices of goods
and services which poor people must pay, and they tax marginal
producers out of business, thus killing jobs. That doesn't help the
How about an inheritance tax? It raises peanuts in revenue and
anyway inherited income can be justified on the grounds that if a
person owns property, he can rightfully sell it or give it away now
or after he dies.
So give up all dreams of soaking the rich and giving to the poor.
They're not dreams -- they're nightmares. [Cord,
pp. 30, 71]
The March 1969 issue of Nation's Cities presents eye-opening
evidence that non-land-value taxes bear down like a dead weight upon
the economy of a city. For instance:
- "Before New York City cut its sales tax back from 4% to
2%, a university research study showed that each 1% of the tax was
driving 6% of all clothing and house furnishing sales out beyond
the city line (along with thousands of Jobs).
- "The one and only reason the Federal government can get
away with an income tax schedule ranging from a minimum of 15% to
a high of 77% is that no one can escape the tax without giving up
his citizenship; but no city has dared raise its maximum income
tax higher than 3% for fear of speeding the upper-income and
middle-income exodus to tax-cheaper suburbs.
- "The corporation tax takes 52% of the admitted profits of
corporate business (plus another 5% or so in accelerated
payments). On top of that the personal income tax takes an average
of some 30% of whatever corporate profits are paid out in
dividends, so all told the Federal Government is now socializing
close to two-thirds of business profits from all but the smallest
"Affirmative evidence that such stiff tax rates can be a
heavy drag on the economy was given by how the small relief
provided by the Kennedy tax reduction abetted an overnight
acceleration in the G.N.P. growth rate.
"....There is only one tax that helps not hinders the
economic process: land-value taxation. Tax land and you don't
reduce its supply (that's physically impossible) but rather
landowners are encouraged to put more of it on the market,
available for use. Tax anything else and you cut its supply."
[Cord, p. 10]
Jarvis's Proposition 13 - the new twist in California
In 1978 Howard Jarvis's Prop. 13 or similar laws passed in
California, Nevada (where it required re-passage in 1980 and failed),
and Idaho. Prop. 13 halves the house tax but unfortunately also halves
the even more important tax on land, which was already too low.
Americans cannot say they hadn't been warned. Perry Prentice had
written of a similar tax shift in Europe:
Before homebuilders and homebuyers start cheering for
proposals that would provide property-tax relief by taking school
costs off the property tax, they should take a good look at what
that kind of unthinking relief is costing homebuilders and
home-seekers in Europe.
As any competent economist could have predicted, the resulting low
property tax has been capitalized Into Impossibly high land prices.
So, for example, a 50 x 100' lot for a small house in a suburb of
the capital of Switzerland would sell typically for 220,000 Swiss
francs, or a bit more than $55,000. And on the outskirts of London,
land zoned residential is priced as high as $192,000 an acre.
Low property taxes are the biggest reason why land prices in Europe
are so crazy high - why private enterprise has been priced out of
the housing market, why from 50% to 80% of all new housing has to be
government-built or government-subsidized; why up to 85% of all new
housing is limited to land-intensive apartments (mostly high-rise)
instead of land-expensive houses. [Prentice
in House & Home, April 1972]
Another warning was the following article, published early in 1978,
well before the vote:
The Jarvis Amendment, if passed, would
- Limit property taxes to a maximum of 1% of market value.
- Limit increases in assessed market value to 2% per year.
- Require 2/3 vote in both houses of the state legislature to
create or raise state taxes.
- Require 2/3 vote of registered voters to create or raise local
Tax reform is sorely needed and the question is whether the Jarvis
Amendment is the appropriate vehicle for it.
It is estimated that $7-8 billion, representing 1/2 to 2/3 of total
property tax revenue, will be lost to local governments and school
districts. Furthermore the measure is designed to make it difficult to
replace these lost revenues. The obvious question, then, is: will not
essential public services have to be cut back? Supporters of the
measure say there is enough waste and fat in local budgets which can
and should be cut. Opponents say essentials will be affected
It is reasonable to assume that the truth lies somewhere in the
middle. At least some essential services will have to be cut or be
reduced in quality. The poor and renters will suffer from service cuts
with no corresponding compensation in tax cut or rent reductions.
The supporters of the Jarvis Amendment say they do not want new taxes
to be raised to make up for lost property tax revenues. It is hardly
reasonable to believe that the forces which have caused government to
become larger and more expensive over the last several decades are
going to be denied. If these forces cannot be denied, the Jarvis
Amendment will give rise to new or increased taxes. The poor and
renters will be saddled with a disproportionate share of any such tax
By promising to cut funds for schools and welfare services and making
it very difficult for local government to raise new taxes, the Jarvis
Amendment will hasten the day when state government will take on the
financial responsibility for those services. Along with any added
financial responsibility for schools and welfare, the state will
inevitably assume greater control at the expanse of local control.
Put in a proper perspective the burden of taxation and alienation
from government felt by the public comes from the dozens of taxes
levied by remote state and federal governments. It is these
governments which are unresponsive and beyond effective control. It is
they who waste the substance of the country on a truly monumental
scale. The long-range effect of the Jarvis Amendment will be to weaken
focal government and to deliver all people further into the hands of
remote and faceless bureaucrats.
In California and across the nation the ownership of land is highly
concentrated in the hands of large corporations and wealthy
individuals. The property tax is not easily avoided and is a thorn in
the side of the wealthy and powerful. The Jarvis Amendment proposes to
out property taxes across the board for all property owners. But as
much as 70% of the tax relief will go to wealthy individuals and large
The reduction of the tax on improvements by itself would have tended
to increase the renovation of houses.
However, the Jarvis Amendment will also lower the tax on land values.
Land prices will immediately rise. Land speculation will be
encouraged. Large landowners will be under much less pressure to make
efficient use of their land even though they could erect profitable
and useful improvements. Urban blight and sprawl will be aggravated.
The simple alternative to the Jarvis Amendment and the existing
property tax is to eliminate taxes on improvements altogether and to
raise taxes on land value to make up the lost revenue. [condensed
from Wendell Fitzgerald in The Analyst, winter 1978 (Henry
George School, 833 Market St., San Francisco]
Jarvis is a self-made millionnaire. It was he who got Utah to adopt a
sales tax. He admitted on TV that his assaults on the property tax and
then on the income tax would probably load to an increase in
California's sales tax.
Jarvis's amendment was opposed by almost the entire legislature, by
most experts, and by 3 of the 6 gubernatorial candidates, including
Jerry Brown who got reelected. Yet the public knows little economics
and liked Jarvis's promises such as that his Prop. 13 would cause
rents to fall without any controls -- an economic absurdity when land
prices rise, as all economists know. Voters were also irritated by the
legislature's inability to find any formula for disbursing the big
state surplus. Prop. 13 passed by 1,800,000 to 1,000,000. Jerry Brown
shifted ground to sound as if he liked it, and the other opponents
were shocked into silence. A challenge failed in the courts.
Aftermath of Prop. 13
Proposition 13 is a loose cannon careening around on the deck of the
ship of state. [
Prop. 13 by unloading $4.4 billion of the accumulated state surplus,
while the legislature provided $900 million in tax relief, produced a
mild rise in business. Jarvis naturally gloated over this. Of course
ANY DISTRIBUTION OF THAT MONEY WOULD HAVE PRODUCED A RISE. The best
way would probably have been by abolishing the sales tax. The general
public did not know that, and the only poll in 1979 on this subject,
taken by a Los Angeles paper, showed Prop. 13 still as popular as
A look at California's "boom" shows that while employment
increased a little, unemployment grew at a higher rate. And a look at
the detailed statistics shows 2 items out of line and actually in
decline. One is the number of public employees, as expected. But the
other is in the important field of housing starts: down 30% in the
first half of 1979, while the rate in the U.S. as a whole fell by only
13%. For the year as a whole the decline in California was 16%, even
though people continued to migrate in from other states. So Prop. 13
put a severe crimp in housing. The state was short of housing even
before. Small wonder that its violent crime rate went up 10% in 1979.
Moreover, by lowering the tax on land, Jarvis has made it more
profitable to own, hence more expensive to buy. Inflated land prices
are one of three main causes of general inflation today -- the others
being the unbalanced budget and the rising price of oil. Inflation is
regarded as our worst problem. Prop. 13 is a clear aggravation of this
Milton Friedman and Arthur Laffer are the two economists of
distinction who supported Prop. 13. Indeed, it was the prestige of
Friedman as a Nobel Prize winner that turned Jarvis's hitherto
faltering movement into an irresistable bandwagon. Without his help,
Proposition 13 would quite likely have been defeated. These two
economists backed Jarvis -- in the hope of promoting a groundswell of
opposition to federal spending, as that is where the really big
spending is. Yet both these men admitted Prop. 13 was a poorly drawn
amendment. And both of them have admitted in letters to me that "land
should be taxed as much as possible, and improvements as little as
possible." That's Georgism! Friedman and Laffer should have
opposed, not supported, Jarvis.
Who gained? Of the $7 billion saved for taxpayers in the first year
under Prop. 13, only $1 billion went to people living in their own
homes -- though all the propaganda for Prop. 13 had been about them.
Of the rest, $2 billion went to landlords, and a whopping $4 billion
was saved by corporations for land they were holding out of use, just
waiting for future profits when the land price would go high enough to
suit them! Thus they can make an exhorbitant profit out of the land,
as other people get more and more desperate to buy it. This process
makes a few people rich, but is certainly not good for the economy as
As for the state legislature, it spent most of its time and a good
deal of its temper in this first year of Prop. 13 on trying to agree
how to allocate funds to all the suddenly hard-up cities and special
districts. Among other things, it was decided to transfer funding of
the schools from the cities to the state -- a centralizing process
practically sure to make for inefficiency and for a wooden sort of
The bail-out left cities and districts still 10% short of their
former revenue [Stumpf & Terrell, Proposition 13 and
California Human Services, 1979, p. 9]. This shortage was what
supporters of Prop. 13 had hoped for. They supposed it could all be
saved by firing excess administrators or by improving efficiency.
Human nature however remained the same as before. So the "saving"
took the form of reduced services. Libraries, cut 17% even after using
an 11% carry-over from the year before, simply shortened hours and
closed some branches. Police forces were reduced, even as violent
A new California law, effective Jan. 1, 1980, let towns levy extra
taxes for services. Within the month Hillsborough had placed a tax on
each house. This falls harder on the poorer homeowners, while vacant
lots are charged only 22% as much as occupied ones. It is a poor law
but was needed to avoid reducing the police and closing a fire station
(Hillsborough has no library).
This "services" law comes none too soon. The 1978-9
state-to-cities bail-out was $4.4 billion; the 1979-80 ball-out was
$4.8 billion; 1980-1 was planned at $4.9 billion. That would exhaust
the state surplus [letter Jan. 11, 1980 from state senate finance
chairman Albert Rodda]. The state will have no more to give. Political
fireworks can be expected.
A technical flaw in Prop. 13 is that it keeps assessment the same
until a piece of property is sold, when the rate rises to the current
market value. This gives an unfair advantage to owners who hold onto
property for a long time. Even so, the state supreme court has held
that Prop. 13 is legal -- a somewhat dubious decision. The unfair
advantage of keeping property long unsold is bound to tempt owners to
hire crafty lawyers to find ways of concealing purchase.
Even before Prop. 13, Californian cities were getting only 20% of
their revenue from property taxes -- a shamefully low figure (U.S.
average: a not much better 32%). The rest came from other local taxes,
plus donations by the governments at Sacramento and Washington.
Jarvis's Prop. 13 lowered the dependence on property taxation to a
mere 10% [Gruen et al, Proposition 13 and
the Future of Construction in California, p. 9], with a
certainty that it will become even less each year inflation tops 2%;
inflation is currently running around 10%. Jarvis has produced a
formula for abolishing local government in California.
Cities and special districts should of course pay their own way 100%
-- preferably all from a tax on land.
Politics -- the Way Forward
People ask, "As land-value taxation is such a good idea, why
isn't it in use already?"
Well, it is in use in at least 5 foreign countries and to a limited
extent in such American cities as Pittsburgh, Scranton, and Harrisburg
and wholly in Californian irrigation districts and on North Dakota
farms. But why not more? Here are the reasons:
- Economics is dull.
- Most state constitutions forbid exempting buildings.
Constitutions are hard to change.
- Land speculators want to go on profiteering.
- Marxism has cornered the reform market. There are the reasons.
Now, what to do about them.
It is sad that university professors -- of economics and also
business administration, government, and history -- do not take a
larger role in informing the public. They are informed. They are
respected enormously by the public. Yet most of them sit on the
side-lines, aside from teaching theory and evaluating events of the
past. Partly this attitude results from the Hatch Act of 1934, which
forbids any civil servant taking part in political campaigns. Teachers
in public schools and state universities are civil servants. In
practice a university department is apt to assign just one professor
to act as occasional consultant at the state capital, and even he
tends to tread a wary line. At election time most professors maintain
a discreet silence, and few of them ever run for office. Even private
colleges tend to fall into this toothless policy. One realizes
teachers are busy with their study and their students. One realizes
too that politics is a vexatious and irksome activity even when you
win -- and wholly unpaid and useless when you lose. Even so, the
nearly complete absence of professors in the political arena is to be
regretted. The net effect of the Hatch Act and innate caution is that
the learned professional experts are largely muzzled! What a way to
run a democracy!
This leaves the job up to the rank and file. What rank and file?
Students are too busy competing against each other and are anyway
still learning and somewhat unsure of their ground. Laborers nearly
always simply don't know enough (Ben Franklin and Henry George were
remarkable exceptions). Politicians are seldom trained In economics,
especially land-value-tax economics, and they are kept busy with their
committees and reports and endless personal contacts.
So who are there to take the lead? There are the elderly -- who are
mostly too exhausted (judge Ralston was a fine exception). There are
those who have leisure because they Inherited wealth -- but these are
apt to join the speculators.
So we have a few self-taught laborers, and a few idealists among the
elderly and the idle rich. Yet whenever a dynamic personality like
Henry George comes along, a big movement can arise swiftly.
The main obstacle may be the Marxists. Marxism well explains the
defects of class society as it is. Gifted writers and speakers have
spread Marxist doctrine, and dedicated youths have eagerly accepted
it. Henry George and LVT get overlooked. Indeed I was myself a Marxist
for 38 years until 1978, when a letter of mine to a newspaper drew a
reply from a Georgist. I still regard social-democratic Marxism as the
2nd-best solution to our troubles.
Californians face a special problem, for Jarvis's stampede has gotten
Prop. 13 onto the books not just as a law, but as an amendment to the
state constitution. To get it off requires a new amendment or else the
repeal of Prop. 13 itself, by a statewide referendum. Considering
Prop. 13's nearly 2-1 margin of victory In 1978, legislators, much as
they loathe this law, doubt they can get it repealed and
understandably don't want to look silly on an unsuccessful try. The
degree of their opposition can be shown by the speed with which, when
it became apparent Prop. 13 might win, they rammed through the
legislature a rival amendment by nearly unanimous vote. It was a
poorly drawn measure and was rejected by the voters statewide, but at
least it lacked some of the worst features of Prop. 13.
Not only legislators dislike Prop. 13. Local officials from top to
bottom oppose it, because it threatens their funds and often their
Economics professors -- Friedman and Laffer excepted -- also oppose
it in their quiet way.
Labor unions are split. Some see their Jobs threatened. Others like
the cut in their property tax. Businessman have inclined to favor
Prop. 13 because of its tax out. They need to be shown that their
deeper interest lies in a wholesome society, cheap land for business
operations, freedom from inflation and depressions and crime and from
possible Communist revolution if the existing set-up breaks down
altogether. Actually businessmen should welcome the shift away from
sales and business taxes. A few already do, especially since Perry
Prentice won over the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's urban affairs
committee in 1971.
One way to start the ball rolling against Prop. 13 would be to get
the League of California Cities to declare its opposition to it -- as
it did before the amendment was passed. I suggested this to various
city officials in 1979, but they felt the time not yet ripe. It is my
belief that the effort cannot begin too soon, as discussion should
bring to light Prop. 13's many flaws. Even defeats would thus have
educational value, and steady pressure should be effective. A good
formula would be:
Article XIII A, Section 1: add "This section shall
apply only to improvements such as buildings and not to the tax on
site value of land itself. Improvements may be left wholly untaxed."
Sections 2-4: delete, and substitute "All land value shall be
Another way to get rid of Prop. 13 would be for Congress to stop
allotting grants in aid to any city which taxes houses or which has
less than a 5% tax on land. [This idea is from
professor C. Lowell Harriss in "The Assessment of Land Value"
The plight of retired homeowners can be a serious one in time of
severe inflation. Their income shrinks in buying power, while their
tax is apt to go up. It was this plight of homeowners that led to the
passage of Jarvis's Prop. 13 -- though in fact that amendment helped
other elements 6 times as much as it helped homeowners.
For the elderly homeowner I suggest the following. When the rise in
land-tax rate exceeds the rise in his pension so he loses 20% of his
paying power, he should be eligible for relief, amounting to half his
further loss. Thus if his pension is up 20% but the tax-rate is up
40%, he must pay it in full, as the difference is only 20%. Above
that, he would save half the difference. Thus if the tax-rate goes up
100% while his pension is still up only 20%, the that's an additional
60% rise in tax-rate, of which he can subtract half. So he pays 3O%
over the previous rise, or 70% more than he did originally; remember
that his pension is up 20%, so his rise in original dollars is just
50%. If the tax-rate goes up 200% while his pension rises only 20% (it
is possible), his tax would go up only 110% and in earning power only
The reason for letting it rise even that much Is that the inflation
that pushes taxes up in the first place is largely caused by military
expenses, incurred to protect these same homeowners. So they should
pay a good part of it.
A Backward Step
In 1980 Massachusetts, which had the highest property tax in the
nation, voted to limit it to 2.5%. The state has no stored-up surplus
so, unlike California, it faces an immediate financial crisis.
The reduction in the tax on houses was of course good. Unfortunately,
lowering the tax on land will encourage poor land use and increased
land speculation, with the usual baneful secondary consequences.
In 1978-80 Pittsburgh by stages raised her tax on land from twice
that on buildings to 6 times as high -- actually more like 3 times, as
schools are still supported by a tax that falls equally on land and
buildings. Scranton, which had phased in the 2-1 ratio in 1913-25 like
Pittsburgh, raised the ratio in 1979-80 to ever 4-1, while Harrisburg
raised it from 1.8 to 3.4.
The land-tax rate in Pittsburgh is now over 4%, in Scranton over 5%,
and in Harrisburg over 6%.
The prime mover in getting these changes in Pennsylvanian cities has
been editor Steven Cord. The civic leader In making the recent changes
in Pittsburgh was city councilman Bill Coyne.
1979, the year Pittsburgh's first new rise went into effect (up to
twice the old ratio), was a flat year generally, with the metropolitan
area's new housing permits down by 18%. In Pittsburgh Itself however,
new housing permits were up 15% and the sale of vacant lots was
similarly up by 14% over the previous year.
McKeesport, the big Pittsburgh suburb, in 1980 adapted the LVT
principle for the first time, going from equal taxation on land and
buildings to 4.5 times as high on land as on buildings.
In 1982 New Castle, Pa., began taxing land nearly twice as much as
buildings, and looked forward to phasing out the house-tax altogether
over the next 5 years.
Cities with LVT
The largest cities using land-value taxation are Sydney (since 1909),
Johannesburg (since 1918), Taipei (since 1954), and Brisbane (since
1891). Each of these has over 1,000,000 population.
A Warning from the Past
If we look into history we can see that the consequences of a low
land tax can be disastrous. The well-off landowners of ancient Rome
got off paying any significant taxes -- and Rome decayed and fell. As
Propertius said, "By her own wealth is proud Rome being destroyed"
"Elegies," book 3, chapter 13].
The Caliphate of Islam throve in its first century, when It relied
largely on a tax taken over from Sasanid Persia, based on the amount
of farmland, essentially a rural land-value tax. The catastrophic
downfall three centuries later was largely due to a shrinking tax base
because too much land was given, tax-free, to retired army officers,
who received whole villages for their own use. So precipitous was this
decline that Bagdad between 932 and 956 A.D. fell from a population of
1,000,000 to 100,000. French nobles and clergy got out to taxation on
their huge properties that covered half of France, and the French
monarchy, quite bankrupt, fell in 1789.
It should be obvious that the owners of land, the basis of wealth,
should pay rather heavy taxes. Only so can the land be forced out of
the hands of inept owners and into the hands of those who can develop
it properly. This lets business develop, and employment become full.
It also lets the government take in enough revenue to stay solvent.
Robert Gourlay (1778-1863)
"I am fully convinced, were £200,000 or £300,000
raised annually by (vacant-land) taxation ... and thrown into Lake
Ontario, it would tend to good."
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