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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Chapter XIV. — The Injustice of Single Tax

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Chapter XIV.

The Injustice of Single Tax.

The perusal of the previous chapter might lead the reader to pronounce the writer a Single Taxer. He hastens to dispel any such erroneous conclusion. Single Tax could cure social evils only by the infliction of a great injustice. No country could adopt it without lending itself to a measure of confiscation. It economie land values are an unearned increment, and wholly so. But the present proprietors of those values have, in many case purchased them with the earnings of hard and continuous laboour They have purchased the unearned increment by an earned increment. In an advancing community the unimproved value of land grows almost daily, but the increment of a year is a small proprotion of the total increment. The man who has been in m possession for a year of land growing in value has received a certain amount of unearned gain, but it is small compared with what has been obtained by his predecessors in title. The past accumulations of in crements crements he has paid for by the genuine earnings of labour. If the Single Tax were suddenly imposed upon his land the full annual value of his land would be taken away—not merely the annuaal value of the increment which had accrued during his ownership but the annual value of what had accrued before. Thus the profit arising from the investment of his savings in land would be absorbed entirely by the tax.

This is the difficulty that Single Taxers have to face. And indeed, it seems insuperable. Their reform is practically a reputation of the innumerable contracts that have been built on land values. But for the fact that men are daily buying unearned crements with hard-earned money, the Single Tax would have an incontestable claim. It may be argued that people should not traffic in land values. The answer, however, is instant. The State has given to such transactions the sanction and protection of its laws. There can be no injustice of which statesmen can take cognisance in a transaction which is in accordance with a nation's laws It may be further argued that it is the very "nature of worng prisciples to bring about situations from which it is impossible to go back to right principles without doing wrong to sombody the Single Taxer stands on ground from which it is hard to drive him. The radical cure of any malignant disease involves an accession of immediate pain. To the man possessed of devils in Galilte the pain of exorcism by our Saviour was torture in the of the extreme tearing and almost bursting the body; but the suffering of [unclear: exorcim] page 109 acute as it was, was nothing compared to the milder interminable suffering of continued possession. So, when society wishes to purge off a great distemper, it must be prepared for a season of disorder and distress. The purging must not be stayed because of suffering to this section of society or to that. It is characteristic of progress to inflict hardship and deprivation on the individual in the interests of the race. There is a relentlessness about all movements of humanity onward and upward, and we must be careful that our efforts are not weakened by too great a softness in our regard of cases of individual suffering. The abolition of slavery in America was not accomplished without wrecking the fortunes of many a one, whose only fault lay in having built up industry on a basis of slavery recognised by his country's laws. The reformer must needs have something of the temper of the sword and of the ardour of the flame, hard and undiscriminiating, when he is to work a great work of healing on society. If, then, nothing but the Single Tax can redress the grave inequalities of our industrial system, no consideration of those who have made contracts on faith in existing conditions can be allowed to stand in the way of its adoption.

This extreme remedy, however, is not necessary to accomplish the [unclear: en] in view Less drastic measures will avail, effecting a large gain to the community at a minimum of cost to the individual. Land values are progressive, and land taxation should be progressive. The gain would be incalculable if all future increments were appropriated for State purposes. This was the expedient advocated by John Stuart Mill. He proposed an assessment of the unimproved value of the land of Britain. That assessment was to be the starting-point of a system of taxation of land value. Any further increase was to be subject to a tax up to the full rental value.

Had his scheme been adopted, all traffic in future unearned increments would have been stopped, and the enormous wealth which has been poured into the pockets of individuals by growing land value since Mill wrote would have gone to enrich the State, to the immeasurable relief of British workers and British industries. Mill died in 1873, and W. H. Dawson tells us that between 1871 and 1886 the increase in the economic rent of the land of London alone was £6.092.680. The whole of this sum would have been available for public purposes had Mill's advice been followed, as well as the immense increase from 1886 up to the present time.

The expedient of Mill might well engage the mind of the Australasian Colonies, where unearned increments are growing so rapidly, and are destined to reach such colossal proportions. In New Zealand, the unimproved value of land has grown at the rate of £3,000,000 a year for the last fifteen years. If the mistaken policy of the past cannot be retrieved without doing violence to private interests, the future offers a vast field where reform can be secured without injustice to individuals. page 110 Of one thing there can be no doubt. Democracy must write upon the top of the slate Land Taxation. In the list of urgent economic reforms this is the first and greatest. It cannot be effected without any such financial undertaking as the schemes of Socialism require, It requires no increase in the financial obligations of the State. And it must be attended to, and that promptly. Let the labouring class turn their enfranchised glance upon it. Let Democracy arise in the might of its new-born energy and assert the claims of indutry. Let it stand upon the broad ground of the justice of its cause. Equity demands that an end be put to the system by which unearned increments flourish at the expense of the earnings, of toil. Let it look forward to the future, and fill its heart with a hope that cannot be defeated. Strong in the right, let it advance to the quickening of industry, to the employment of the unemployed, to the augmenting of productivity, to the increase of wages. In short let it declare for land taxation which will increase the national wealth, and at the same time ensure a more equitable distribution of that wealth. Here is a reform which makes no attempt to benefit one class of producers at the expense of another. Here is a reform which does not attempt to bring benefit by creating an artificial scarcity of commodities like Protection. Here is a reform which does not essay the task, foredoomed to failure, of increasing wages by restricting output. Here is a reform which do not offer any impossible road to wealth by the manufacturing of money. Here is a reform which does not involve an immense outlay in the purchase of industries and natural agents like Socialism. This is a reform which requires no revolution for its adoption. It can be effected with ease, and without a violent wrenching of vested interests. It is a reform which increases wages by unfettering industry; which pours wealth into the lap of Labour by securing greater abundance of land and a greater abundance of commodities.