Open main menu

Page:Harvard Law Review Volume 1.djvu/273

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

MR. GEORGE’S proposition for a fundamental amendment of the laws has two aspects. He proposes, first, to abolish all existing taxation and to raise the revenue needed for the expenses of government by a single tax upon the value of the land held by each land-owner, the tax not to exceed at any time the fair rental value of the land exclusive of distinguishable betterments. He proposes, secondly, after the first step shall have been taken and a firm foothold secured, to use the machinery of taxation to exact the entire economic rent of land, and to apply the surplus, above what may be required for the necessary expenses of government, to the common welfare, in ways to be devised. He assumes that economic rent, in the present state of this and of every civilized country, would largely exceed the amount required for necessary governmental expenses. This assumption, however, is not essential to his scheme. If the amount realized by his tax would not support the government, of course there would have to be taxes on other things, but the amount to be so raised would be less by the amount of the land-value tax.

Before this project could be embodied in a law, many important details would require careful adjustment; but it is now in a form that is sufficiently definite for a discussion of the principles upon which it is urged, and for the formation of an intelligent opinion thereon. So far, however, for the most part, critics have concerned themselves with the non-essentials of the proposed innovation; they have missed the vital point in George’s reasoning. And this is true, as I venture to think, not merely of the strictures which one hears in casual conversation or reads in newspaper editorials. It is true also of the deliberate treatment which the subject has received at the hands of competent publicists, such as the Duke of Argyll[1] and Mr. W. H. Mallock[2] in England, and Gen. Francis A. Walker[3] and Professor W. T. Harris[4] here.

In this paper I propose, briefly and in outline, so that, if there

  1. “The Prophet of San Francisco.” Nineteenth Century for April, 1884.
  2. “Property and Progress.” A reprint of several essays in the Quarterly Review.
  3. “Land and its Rent.”
  4. “Henry George’s Mistake about Land.” The Forum for July, 1887; also, more fully in Journal of Social Science, No. XXII., p. 116, et seq.