The Edwin Burgess 

Letters on Taxation

On the 20th of August last "S, S." replied to my letters on an exclusive land tax for revenue under the head of "Taxation Reconsidered." He thinks it wrong that the farmers who, he says, "make the least cost of Government" should pay in proportion to the land, which they own. 'I think if the farmers do make the least cost of Government it is because they enjoy their right of land, and are less exposed to the destitution, privation, and temptations of the landless; and this is one of the reasons why I put all taxes on the land, that none might monopolize the land which should belong to others, to support themselves, and thus diminish crime and the cost of Government, and create the best home market for our home manufacturers. For when the land is free and priceless, as it would be without law, or as the land tax would make it, then the people can either farm or manufacture, whichever will pay better than the other, but with the high price of land caused by the labour tax, the landless and moneyless have IlI0 choice but to labour for others if they can get the work, or beg, steal or starve. So that it is not the honest and thrifty, but the lazy and greedy farmers and land monopolists, who own vast quantities of land and cultivate but little, who make paupers, drunkards, and criminals of the landless, which "S. S." charges on the citizens and would fain make the citizens support all the drunkards, paupers, and criminals whom the land monopolists have made. Why, he might as well buy up and monopolize the breasts of the mother, and then blame the babe for crying for its food, for the land is to mankind what the breast is to the babe, the source of subsistence.
     I believe that no one has a moral right to land because he has bought it, and paid for it, any more than the slaveholder has a moral right to the man, woman, or child he has bought and paid for; because no one can have a moral right to sell the land which belongs equally to all, or the man, woman, and child whose persons, liberty, and labour belong to themselves.
     Does not "S. S." know that the land contains all the food of mankind, and that the landowners would charge the tax on the food they sold, just as the importer charges the duty, which he advances on the goods which he imports? And thus the land tax would be the most equal Possible and the least costly and corruptive also; for when the taxes are on imported goods, only those who buy the goods pay the tax. Thus, the North buying three-fourths of the imported goods pays one-half of the taxes of the South, and when the taxes are on personal property, the most industrious and saving pay while the idle and extravagant escape. And when the personal property consists of imported goods, which have paid one tax on importation, they will be taxed again in the hands of the wholesale and retail merchants for state, county, town, and city purposes, while the land pays taxes only for local purposes and not for the general government, and the product of labour is frequently first taxed as raw material and afterwards as manufactured goods.
     Then, look at the folly of taxing hundreds of different things, when the land tax reaches everything and destroys land monopoly as well, because every dollar of the millions will then be expended in the produce f the land, raw or manufactured, and thus do all pay taxes in the most equal manner possible and at the least possible cost, whereas when you tax hundreds of different things you make hundreds of times more cost, labour, and difficulty to raise "revenue," while you give a premium on war, smuggling, piracy, robbery and murder, perjury and fraud, thus morally degrading mankind. "S. S." prints the word "tailor" in capitals-I suppose to remind me of my business. I am really proud of its usefulness. But does he suppose that telling me what I was will alter the truth of what I say, or be a sufficient reply to my arguments?
     "S. S" says that the land tax would cheapen food and raise manufactures, but, as I said before, the enterprising would equalize the value of their labour by working at whatever pays best which they cannot do without the use of the land.
     "S. S." says the whole system of balances and averages would be changed, and this to the detriment any pecuniary ruin of the present and future farmers. Now, the farmers, as well as mechanics, could change their occupation if they found manufacturing more profitable, and much more easily than at present, because the land for the factory would cost probably nothing, and there would be no inquisitorial, pauperizing "labour tax" on manufactures to prevent them, so that it would be easier to commence farming because the land would cost less, and every implement and machine needed for cultivation would cost less also, and there would be no tax on the stock of the farmer or manufacturer, or on the improvements of either, so that the changes in values would be good for farming and manufacturing, and no "ruin" could result to present or future farmers or manufacturers from the land tax, but permanent prosperity to both.
     "S. S." charges me with "class legislation, and professedly, designedly, unequal taxation." My conscience and, 1 think, my life denies it. But do we not judge others much by our own moral condition? What facts are referred to show my dishonesty? Rogue often cries Rogue to avoid suspicion and cast it on the innocent. The least truthful and honest have the least reason to suppose truth and honesty in others. "Judge not lest ye be judged." I think "S. S." professes to believe good of us all.
     What the argument of the French nobles or lords was I know not, but the English nobles put nearly fifty millions of taxes annually on the labour and less than two millions of taxes on the land-this enables the nobles to own most at the land. There humanity must starve to keep parks, pleasure grounds, game preserves, moors, etc., for the splendour of the nobility and aristocracy, while the landless must manufacture, beg, steal, or starve, and rely on foreign countries for their food. And this is what I would fain prevent in America and every country and nation of the world, and I proposed and advocated the land tax for that purpose.
     "If skilless I've performed my part,
     The error lies not in my heart,
     My head's alone to blame."
     "S. S." would claim that taxing all property has destroyed the aristocracy of France, which exists, to a great extent, though much less than in England. The following figuring may tell why:

                         Taxes on land.         On industrial produce
England            £  183,000                £  49,432,000
France              23,250,000                   17,500,000
Russia                3,999,000                     3,667,000
Austria               7,779,000                     7,700,000

     The above I copied from an English paper about the year 1849. In all the above countries except England, more than half the taxes are on the land, and the riches of the aristocracy are just in proportion as the land is exempt from taxes.
     "S. S." says: "If the great burden of the land tax causes one to sell out, the same cause will prevent others buying." I contend that the taxes will be much less, and consequently less burdensome, because, the land being priceless, any persons, or, at least, many, could till the lands for themselves, whom we now keep as paupers and crim¡nals. This would diminish the cost of government (or taxes), which will be less burdensome in proportion to the cheapness of land, and only the land kept idle or badly cultivated would be obliged to be sold because it would not pay the tax. And none can rightly keep land idle and make others suffer for their indolence, else, if one man could buy all the land he might keep all of it idle except enough to support himself, and starve everyone else to death.
     "S. S." says: "At the low price of produce resulting from an increase of producers and a decrease of consumers, the farmer cannot sustain himself and pay his increased and increasing tax." This is the old fallacy of supposing that cheap land would compel people to farm while manufacturing paid better.
     "S. S." says: "But supposing the prices remain relatively the same, what better is' he off by paying a large tax to a government than paying the same amount in rent to a landlord?" I reply: Not only would the taxes be diminished by all the cost of the revenue service, but by that of every pauper and criminal who ceased to be landless, because of the free or cheap land, also by that of every pauper and criminal who found labour in manufacturing for the increased supply of the produce of the land, while the very rent to which "S. S." refers would be saved also by any houses that were placed on the free or cheap land by their owners, and all interest and usury would cese also, as all could easily own their own homes and make all the capital they needed. Then bankers, brokers, and usurers would soon die out from the universal prosperity of man¡ kind.
     "S. S." complains that the land tax would change the actual and relative value of land. The actual value is its productive power, which it would not change except by encouraging its use and making its idleness unprofitable. Its relative or money value might be changed by the Homestead Bill, which "S. S." might charge with destroying the hard-earned property of millions of monopolists by giving their birthright to millions of mankind. Let us remember that when we trade in the rights of others in buying risk, and not at the cost of the innocent or the wronged.
     "S. S." says: "No man can have any more right to the soil another has bought than to the food that others have raised from it, or to the clothing or other products that he has earned by its cultivation." "S. S." still fails to distinguish between the land, which naturally and morally belongs to all, and the produce of the land, which naturally belongs to the producer. Suppose one man or many could buy all the land, who has the right to sell it? Would the buyers have the right to starve all the rest of mankind, and entail the land to their children with the eternal power of starving all other children? I think not, and therefore think the right of land is as inalienable as our existence, and that everyone who buys the land of others ought to lose it, just as the slaveholder who buys a man, woman, or child ought to lose what he paid for his covetous villainy.
     "S. S." says: "When there is no other soil which he may acquire, and to which he may go, and no other food which he may procure, then he may assert a claim which It will be the duty of others to heed." Now, as "no one can rightly make others suffer for what he enjoys," so no one can rightly own land to the injury of others-to drive them out of any country or neighborhood. And this is it is the duty of all speculators to heed, now and forever. And to make it the interest of the land monopolist to let such land alone, and to prevent the taxes on the product of labour which prevent production and employment and to make it as easy as possible to commence and continue farming and manufacturing, and consequently to follow whichever will pay the best, are my principal reasons for advocating the land tax exclusively, and my continued examination only strengthens my conviction that I am right in theory as in practice.
To: Burgess Letters

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