The Edwin Burgess 

Letters on Taxation



   LETTER VII.
We would naturally suppose that the question, What is the best means of raising revenue? would be one of the first considerations of every party desiring to govern this country or any other; but I am at a loss to find any party in any country that has investigated the subject, and recorded a satisfactory reply. In this country, our revenue is raised by duties on imported goods and the proceeds or profits of the sales of public lands; and when the expenditure exceeds the revenue, the deficiency is supplied by an issue of notes on the treasury, bearing interest, which are to be redeemed by future duties on imports and sales of public lands. But it is evident that the sales of land cannot be much relied on for revenue, as they only amount to between three and four million dollars a year, and about one-third is generally consumed for collecting, surveying, mapping, rent of offices, etc., and the payment of Indians will probably about balance the account, to say nothing of Indian wars; besides, the sales must soon diminish and ultimately cease, unless we buy or steal more territory. Therefore, our main dependence for revenue is on duties on imports; and is it not our duty and interest to inquire if that is the best means of raising revenue?
     If a tax on commerce is the best means of raising revenue on the boundaries of countries or nations to bear the expenses of the general government, why not on the boundaries of states, counties, towns, and cities, as in Paris and other cities on the continent of Europe, to defray the expenses of state, county, town, and city government? If the principle is the best, why not apply it everywhere? but if not, why apply it anywhere?
     In Paris, a city containing nearly two millions of people, there are numerous roads out of the city, through strong iron gates, protected by military; and all persons are searched, if suspected, every time they enter, to see if they have any articles on which duties may be levied, and the duties on fruit, meat, vegetables, tobacco, wines, spirits, etc., are there collected. What a glorious source of patronage this would be for a corrupt republic! What a paradise for official toadies! What an interesting scene to witness the "pants" of every gentleman, and the "crinoline" of every lady, subjected to official scrutiny! No wonder the press is gagged, and the people gagged and forbidden to hold public meetings, or sing the "Marseillaise," or anything which breathes of liberty, truth, and justice, just as the press and people are gagged with us at the South, if they write, speak, or sing of liberty for all, or lend "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to a coloured man, woman or child.
     One would think that when we declared our Independence of Foreign Government, we would exercise the independence of thought, to see what means of raising revenue would leave the largest liberty, equality, and prosperity for all; and be the least expensive, burdensome, and oppressive to any; and if the tariff, high or low, for protection or revenue, or both, best fulfils these conditions, then carry it into every department where revenue is required.
     To illustrate the relative merits of the tariff and the land tax, let us suppose, for example, that Racine exempted all merchants' and manufacturers" goods from taxes. and all grain, farm produce, etc., and all people from poll tax and all improvements from taxes, and put all the taxes on the land; and at the same time Milwaukee and Kenosha exempted all land from taxes, and put all the taxes on the farm produce and merchants' and manufacturers' goods and improvements and poll tax, in fact on all articles which are exempt from taxes in Racine; where would the mechanics, merchants and manufacturers settle? If all other advantages were equal, evidently where the goods were untaxed, because it would cost less to commence and carryon manufactories, and they could sell goods better also -where no special tax raised the price of the article. Where would the farmers go to sell their produce and buy their goods? Doubtless where neither were taxed, because there they would obtain the most money for their produce, and the most goods for their money. Would not Racine grow rapidly while Milwaukee and Kenosha dwindled?? And will not this be true of any city, town, county, state, or nation?
     But where will the land speculators go? Will it not be where the land is untaxed? because there it will sell for the highest price, while it costs nothing to keep the land idle and the man idle; there the land monopolist might flourish, but there it would be more difficult to commence farming because the land will be higher, and manufacturing also, not only because the land for the factory will cost much more, but because of the high special tax on the raw material, and every implement for manufacturing it. And where the land is untaxed, the land being higher, the rents will be higher also, and it will be doubly difficult for the landless mechanic to buy a lot for his house, and his rent will be high in proportion as the land is high; and the high price and high rents, instead of defraying the expenses of government (as the land tax would do), go to enrich the land monopolist at the cost of every landless consumer; and by making and keeping people landless and dependent on the monopolist for employment, and thus making the means of living the most uncertain, promote misery, pauperism, and crime, and thus vastly increase the cost of government by increasing the taxes for the prevention of crime and the support of paupers, criminals, and their officers.
     The land tax, unlike the tariff, would require no extra officers for assessing and collecting revenue for the general government, as the expenses would be defrayed by a percentage on the assessment for State purposes, which would be transmitted to the general government in the best manner.
     Think what a saving that would be over the old feudal system of barbarian despots! No buying Cuba or any other country on the plea of the benefits of free trade, but free trade without buying the country for it; no Custom Houses and officers; no revenue service to diminish our liberties, increase our expenses, and rob us of our right of free trade on the plea of protection; no commercial treaties abroad for special monopolies, or vexatious litigation on tariff violations at home; more producers and fewer destroyers; standing armies and navies being no longer needed when our commercial motto shall be "Free Trade with all the world."

     Our Stars and Stripes to every land should ever be unfurl'd,
     With liberty for all mankind; free commerce with the world.
To: Burgess Letters

Hovedside: Grundskyld - Henry George
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Andre Skribenter
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Summary of pages in English: Land and taxation
  
March 2009