The Edwin Burgess 

Letters on Taxation



OUR LIBERTY AND LAND.
TAXATION CONSIDERED.
LETTER III.
     
     Taxing personal property and offsetting by oath the indebtedness of the debtor, not only promote perjury, but make It the interest of those who own property without indebtedness to leave the State, because they, having no indebtedness to offset, will be taxed for all they own while the debtor who owes for more property than he owns need pay no tax on personal property whatever, no matter whether the debt be honestly or dishonestly contracted, whether there is any intention, or no intention that it shall ever be paid; so that anyone who has come to this country having swindled his creditors, or swindles them here, may be exempt from a personal tax in proportion to the extent of the swindle. Do we not thus make Wisconsin a profitable Paradise for rogues, by giving them an annual premium on never paying their just debts? For if they should become thrifty and saving, pay all they owe and save as much more, then they will have to pay so much more taxes every year, in proportion to their industry, honesty, truthfulness, and economy.
     While the landowners of England were the lawmakers, they taxed almost everything but the land, to exempt themselves from the payment of taxes. Now, as we have had laws recently in Wisconsin to delay or prolong the time for the collection of debts, and now have a law to exempt the personal property of the debtor from taxation, and thus lay the burden of the taxes on the industrious and saving, we ought naturally to inquire into the motive, whether it is a sin of intention in which they were peculiarly interested, or whether it is a sin of ignorance from want of considering the consequences. If our legislators would exempt all personal property from taxes, I would say Amen; because then there would be the greatest inducement for industry and economy, and the tax would then only be burdensome to the land monopolist, Who, inconsequence of his land monopoly, is the greatest burden which society has to support; and society is quite as much to blame as the land monopolist, for it almost literally makes him a monopolist by making it his interest to be so; and as soon as he relinquished the land, which should belong to others, the land tax would cease to be burdensome to him; and until land monopoly is abolished there can be no permanent prosperity for mankind. While one man owns the land of a landless brother, he, to a certain extent, owns the labour of the man. If all owned what land they needed to cultivate by their own labour, they could be self-employing, and would not need to sell their own labour or produce for less than they could buy that of others, then we should no longer feel the degradation of "begging a brother of the earth to give us leave to toil," as Burns beautifully expresses the dependent condition of the wages slave.
     I know one man who will put off building a large house until the taxes are levied this year, to save the taxes, and thus are builders kept idle; and can you blame the man when your laws have made it his interest to do so, especially in a place as tax-ridden as Racine is, and there are doubtless many in the same condition?
     I know one man who loaned money and bought securities here for his brother who was living in another State; had the brother lived here he would have had a special tax to pay, but we made it his interest to live away and lost his custom, which would help to employ the unemployed, and diminish our pauper tax; and I had some suspicion that the buying in the brother's name was only to evade the tax, but shall we blame the effect in him when the cause is in ourselves, in our blundering laws which encourage deception and perjury, while producing pauperism, misery, and crime?
     We exempt railroad property from local taxes, and gas property, and schools, churches, and banks; now, if it is good in one ease, I challenge anyone to show that it is not good in all. Then away with your paltry special privilege legislating, and let us have instead, laws Which, if universally applied, would cause the most permanent prosperity for all; and though we can never do good to the taxpayer by taxing him, let us be sure that we do him the least possible injury; and that, I contend, the "ad valorem" land tax will do, and no other forced tax whatever, for it is less costly in valuation and collection, less corruptive and unequal, and causes less pauperism, misery, and crime than any other tax; in fact it is the only Free Trade Tax, and sets up no board of inquisition on the industry of any man or woman.
To: Burgess Letters

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