The Edwin Burgess Letters on Taxation


LETTER 1.
TAXATION CONSIDERED
Being in the County Clerk's Room of the Court House, I saw a large pile of papers headed "Statement of Property," to be filled out and sworn to by every resident owner. "The number and value of horses and cattle, mules and asses, sheep, hogs, pleasure carriages of every description, watches, moneys and credits, merchant's stock, manufacturer's stock and other articles of personal property;" which is everything that one person could sue another for stealing. Now, I could not help thinking somewhat on the cost as well as consequence of such a method of Taxing People for the support of Government.
     1st. Taxing people for their personal property-on their oath, is a premium on perjury, because those who lie the most, pay the least taxes; and children born under such influences will be famous for lying-if there is any connection between cause and effect in the condition of parent and offspring.
     2nd. The means of valuing or assessing are very expensive; thus increasing the cost of government, as well as the cost of corruption.
     3rd. Taxing personal property prevents production, because the tax being added to the article for sale, increases its price in proportion to the means of buying. Hence, less is sold and less is made, and the makers are less employed; and having, consequently, less with which to buy, the makers or other things will be less employed also-till the surplus workers will become paupers, and suffer much misery in consequence; many will become hopeless, and reckless be¡ cause hopeless. Some will be tempted to commit crime for the temporary alleviation of their misery, which, repeated, soon becomes a habit; we have then paupers and criminals to support, pauper houses and prisons to build, officers to hire to superintend both; Legislators to make laws for their government; thus the Tax on personal property, or the pro¡ duct of industry, increases the amount of paupers and criminals, while the cost of keeping paupers and criminals, officers and Legislators, increases the amount of Tax and the cost of government, of course.
     A friend of mine intended to buy a piano, but the Tax decided him against it; fewer watches will be sold, because they are taxed. If any person puts up a new fence, or make any visible improvement, which employs the unemployed and prevents their continuance as paupers, and beautifies the city-they are taxed annually in proportion to the evil they prevent and the good they do.
     4th. Taxing personal property is not only costly, corruptive, and pauper making, and promotive of misery and crime, but inquisitorial; burdensome, and aggressive against our right to labour and enjoy the fruit of our toil unmolested; as long as we injure no one, we should be protected against aggression, instead of suffering aggression. Are we not now taxed for the aggression instead of the protection against it?
     5th. Taxing people in proportion to their industry prevents industry; because when an industrious person labours twelve hours per day, successfully, he must pay twelve times as much taxes, because he has made twelve times as much property to be taxed, as if he had worked only one hour per day; and besides the limit of his means to pay the tax, whether in a watch, a piano, or a horse, no one likes to be taxed for the idleness of others, and he feels the injustice also, and improvements are thus prevented which would profitably employ the idle.
     6th. Taxing personal property raises the price of land, and thus promotes its monopoly by the rich-because land being the source of our subsistence, which labour develops or increases, from which, and on which, all must live, and money instead of manhood being the qualification for owning land, it follows that in proportion as the taxes are on per¡ 4 sonar property, the land will be exempt, and it will be thus, comparatively cheap, or easy for the rich to monopolise: so that if all the taxes were on the land, it would sell for the lowest price, and would be most difficult to monopolise; but if all the taxes were on personal property, and none on the land, then the land would sell for the highest price, and labour would sell for the lowest price, because of the excessive competition of the landless and destitute workers, who by selling their labour for the smallest portion of its produce, would keep the land at the highest possible price; so, when you want land to be low, and wages high, put all the taxes on the land; but if you prefer labour to be low and land high, you have only to put all the taxes on personal property. All articles of productive industry cost the keeping of the maker and contriver, but the land costs nothing for either. It is the natural inheritance of all, for all time; and all should be protected in their possession, and those who own all the land should certainly pay all the Taxes for keeping them in possession and their neighbours out of it.


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