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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/514

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

itself, because it is a tax on personal enjoyment or final consumption. The same is the case when a portion of a river or lake or its shore is rented for fishing for the purposes of sport. A like result will also follow, in a greater or less degree, from the inability or unwillingness of tenants, as has been often the case in Ireland, to pay rent sufficient to reimburse the landowner for interest on his investment of capital and cost of repairs. But if one employs land as an instrumentality for acquiring gain through its uses, the taxation of land must include the taxation of its uses—its contents, all that rests upon it, all that is produced, sold, expended, manufactured, or transported on it—and all such taxes will diffuse themselves. On the other hand, if the taxation of land under such circumstances and conditions does not diffuse itself, then the taking is simply a process of confiscation, which if continued will ultimately rob the owner of his property, and is not governed by any principle.

It is indeed difficult to see how a theory so wholly inapplicable to fact and experience as that of the nondiffusion of taxes on land—which makes property in land an exception to the rule acknowledged to be applicable to all other property—could originate and be strenuously maintained to the extent even of stigmatizing any opposite view "as so very superficial as scarcely to deserve a refutation."[1] !No little of confusion and controversy on this subject has arisen from the assumption that land specifically, and the rent of land, constitute two distinct and legitimate subjects for taxation, when the fact is just the contrary. The rent of land is in the nature of an income to its owner; and it is an economic axiom that when a government taxes the income of property it in reality taxes the property itself. In England and on the continent of Europe land is generally taxed on its yearly income or income value, and these taxes are always considered as land taxes. Alexander Hamilton, in discussing the taxation of incomes derived directly from property, used this language: "What, in fact, is property but a fiction, without the beneficial use of it? In many instances, indeed, the income is the property itself." The United States Supreme Court, in its recent decision of the income tax (1895), also practically indorsed this conclusion. To levy taxes on the rent of land and also upon the land itself is, therefore, double taxation on one and the same property, which in common with all other unequal and unjust taxes can not be diffused; and for this reason should be regarded as in the nature of exactions or confiscation, concerning the incidence of which nothing can be safely predicated. In short, this whole discussion, and the unwarranted assumption involved in it and largely accepted, is an illustration of what may be regarded as a maxim, that the greatest errors in political economy


  1. Seligman. Shifting and Incidence of Taxation.