How College Textbooks Treat
Land Value Taxation
Elizabeth Read Brown
[This paper was printed in pamphlet form by The
American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1961 and
subsequently distributed to a select group of economists and
university professors of political science and sociology]
"HOW DOES IT HAPPEN that I've taken so many courses in economics
and until now have never heard about land value taxation?" This
remark expressed the feeling of a graduate student in one of our state
universities. A number of other students, who were having assignments
on the subject, questioned friends attending different institutions
and discovered that the texts these friends were using contained
nothing about this method of taxation.
To determine the impact of college textbooks on student thinking
regarding land value taxation seventy-six textbooks in economics were
analyzed. Included in this group were texts which purport to be used
in a substantial number of colleges and universities of the United
States (including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico) and Canada.
Attention will be focused in this paper mostly on books published
after 1948 with a large percentage of these appearing after 1950,
since these are the texts most likely to be in use. To ascertain
whether certain views have been continuously emphasized by some of the
authors, earlier texts -- of which the same individuals were author or
co-author -- have been compared with more recent ones. Also, an
occasional text has been compared with an earlier edition or book by
the same author to discover whether he has changed his viewpoint
In spite of many factors which made it impossible1 to obtain
completely satisfactory information regarding "adoptions,"
some interesting figures have been collected. Adoptions claimed ranged
from 271 to eight, second and third highest being 233 and 120. (The
reader should bear in mind that these were not complete records of
In analyzing each book, the table of contents and frequently the body
of the text, as well as the index, were examined to locate any
reference to land value taxation. 'When nothing was found in the index
under this topic, such related words as "Henry George," "Single
Tax," "Progress and Poverty," "Taxation,"
etc., were checked.
OnOnly one book of the entire group examined -- and this was
excluded from the tabulation since it is not a textbook -- made any
reference at all to the actual use of a land value tax system anywhere
in the world.
Thirty-five of the seventy-six books -- including George Leland
Bach's Economics, an Introduction to Analysis and Policy, the
one most widely adopted -- made no mention of Henry George, Progress
and Poverty, or the "single tax." Seven other books made
only the briefest reference.
KENNETH E. BOULDING'S
Economic Analysis has the second largest list of known
adoptions. The author prefaces his comment about Henry George and the
"single tax" with the statement that the collection of
information about national income and product has "led to the 'debunking'
of many myths." The thirty-word comment follows:
Henry George's idea of the "single
tax" fares ill when we compare what is absorbed by government
with the small fraction of national income which goes to rents and
With these words Professor Boulding dismisses once and for all, not
only the "single tax," but any consideration of the
proposal that land be taxed more heavily than improvements (capital)
as a reform in our tax system. So, of course, he makes no reference to
existing information on what has occurred when that reform has been
introduced in Australia and elsewhere. Why is not the taxing of land,
according to its unimproved value for what it would yield, considered
and compared and contrasted with other forms of taxation on the basis
of such actual experience ?
In Economic Processes and Policies by William J. Baumol and
Lester V. Chandler, the view that a tax on land values cannot be
shifted, is referred, to without endorsement, in these words:
However, since land can neither be
made nor destroyed, a tax cannot affect its supply. It is concluded
that a land tax will be less harmful than other taxes in causing
resources to be misallocated.
The balance (less than one page) of the discussion given to "land
taxes," is devoted to pointing out alleged "important
weaknesses in the arguments of those who advocate levying taxes only
on land." It runs as follows:
Again the argument is weak because
a tax on land can affect the supplies available on the market. A
land tax of sufficient magnitude may induce landlords to let their
acres grow wild or use them as hunting grounds rather than renting
them out for industrial building. The less effectively he can shift
the taxes on to the person to whom he rents his land, the greater
may be the landlord's inducement to hold it back for his own use.
The authors state in a footnote reference
that what they are criticizing was "essentially the view of
Henry George, founder of the single tax movement." But that
proposal was that land values be taxed equally whether the land is
used or not used. No owner could by using his "acres as hunting
grounds" or holding them back "for his own use,"
escape taxes. From the passage in Baumol and Chandler here quoted,
it would appear that a land tax does not apply to land when kept out
of use. Yet advocates of land value taxation have constantly
emphasized that such a tax would force good land into use because
it does apply to unused land whenever it has value. Since
the owner would have to meet the tax, he would be more anxious to
get as great a return -- by renting it or using it himself -- as
In Australia, for example, it was found that where land was taxed
more heavily and capital was relieved -- or untaxcd -- there was a "decline
in vacant holdings." In August 1956, the citizens of
Wangaratta (Victoria) voted in the land value tax system. A June 1958
issue of the Wangaratta Chronicle Despatch reported that: "Valuable
blocks of idle land have been sold by auction at 'very satisfactory'
prices, and some derelict buildings have been demolished to make way
for new ones."
FOUR EDITIONS of Paul A. Samuelson's
Economics, bear testimony to the popularity of a text by
an author who has been called "one of the most brilliant of
contemporary young economists."
Professor Samuelson introduces the subject of land value taxation
because, he believes, Progress and Poverty's "central
tenet -- that land rent is in the nature of a surplus which can be
taxed heavily without disturbing production incentives -- can
be examined to illustrate, one principle of distribution and taxation."
Nowhere does he point to any specific benefits from such a system.
Instead he leaves the student with this thought concerning "the
Single Tax Movement":
This is not the place to attempt
any assessment of the merits and demerits of such a political
The Moral? Perhaps this: At this point, suspend
judgment on the ethical problems of distribution -- on the For Whom.
And when you do begin to tackle such ethical questions, don't forget
Are college students never to consider the pros and cons of
this subject? Where is the place -- if not in college classes -- that
"the merits and demerits of such a political movement"
should be assessed? (Other writers than Samuelson have taken the
course of avoiding such a discussion. For example, Baumol and Chandler
say: "However, this is not the place to go into the
complicated ethics of the question.")
Samuelson does not consider whether higher taxation of land would
force more good land into use. Nor does he weigh the proposal that
relief of capital from taxation be employed to increase the rate of
capital investment. He does not indicate whether the increased amount
of available land and the increase of capital would make labor more
productive. He does not show whether taxing capital less and land
values more would facilitate slum clearance without putting an extra
burden on the taxpayer's back to buy out slum landlords at higher
prices, probably, than they could otherwise get. He does not indicate
whether such a tax policy would make easier the purchase of a home,
farm or commercial property. Like nearly all the writers of
economics texts, Samuelson ignores existing data from Australia and
New Zealand. And indeed, he ignores all literature on the
subject of land value taxation later than 1879 when Henry George's
Progress and Poverty was published!
RALPH H. BLODGETT in
Our Expanding Economy, commenting on "the basis of what
is called the single-tax movement," appears to have changed his
attitude toward the "single tax."
It is contended, Blodgett says, that the rents owners receive are the
results of social growth and development and not any activity by the
landowners. Hence it is argued that the rent of land should be taken
in taxation by society. But on the other side it is argued, Professor
Blodgett continues, that many landowners have bought their land at
such a price that the rent they receive is no more than "the
going rate of interest." Why, therefore, he asks, should this
rent be taken away from them while investors in capital are not thus
The author's final comment on the subject is that "a number of
ethical and practical obstacles would stand in the way of a program
for socializing economic rent."
In an earlier book, Getting and Earning, of which Professor
Blodgett was co-author with Raymond T. Bye, a rather different view --
and a much more exhaustive treatment -- of the "single tax"
Here then, is a problem -- and a challenge ...
Having thus considered something
of the nature of the income from land, let us now apply to it the
test of earnings developed in the second chapter. Let it be
remembered that we are dealing with the income from the bare land
itself and not from any improvements which may have been erected
thereon. According to our criteria, only that income is earned which
is paid to the recipient for a socially useful service rendered in
production, at a price not exceeding the normal competitive value of
that service. On the basis of this definition, the rent of land is
There can be no doubt that the land makes an
important contribution to production, but the landowner himself does
not, and it is he who receives the rent.
The authors emphasized the dependence of land value on the geological
and social factors for which the owners are not responsible. The
fortunes of the Astors, the Weyerhaeusers, the Fields, et. al.,
resulted from rising land values which went to private individuals.
But what these did "on a large scale, many others have done and
are now doing on a smaller scale. In every growing community there are
land speculators, reaping an unearned profit made possible by the
activities of others about them; and every town of small or medium
size has its quota of inhabitants who have become well-to-do through
In commenting on the frequent insistence that such "investors
have borne a considerable risk for which they deserve to be rewarded"
and that they have exercised foresight, Professors Bye and Blodgett
illustrated by a story of a bandit. If the bandit robs a messenger
carrying a payroll and escapes with the money, this effort does not
qualify him to receive a reward even though he has exercised "foresight"
and taken "a risk."
Notwithstanding Bye and Blodgett pointed out certain weaknesses in
George's reasoning, they recognized and gave him credit for those of
his arguments which they considered to be correct. Even more unusual,
they did not assign him to "the underworld of economics."
Instead, they felt it necessary to defend him, noting that: "For
many years conservative writers have taken a peculiar delight in
trying to punch holes in Henry George's analysis." Admitting that
there are points on which "his reasoning and conclusions are
vulnerable to some extent," they added:
In spite of these objections,
there is considerable truth in George's analysis and much merit in
his basic proposal. Our own reasoning supports his view that land
rent is unearned by the landlord. This may be held to justify the
appropriation of rents by society through its collective
organization, the State.
Therefore, why not appropriate the
entire economic rent of land, henceforth, by means of taxation?
Though Bye and Blodgett maintained the vested rights argument was "not
to be dismissed lightly," they went on to say:
On the other hand, it surely should not be allowed to block the way
to many socially desirable reforms.
We did not allow the vested
interest of innocent purchasers of inflated securities in monopolistic
enterprises to prevent the breaking up of such monopolies under the
Sherman Anti-Trust Law ...
There is, then, ample precedent for ignoring the vested interest of
those who have purchased land, if we desire society to appropriate the
land values which properly belong to it.
Further on in the chapter one reads:
Let us begin at once to modify the
present general real estate tax, which is acknowledged by all
students of public finance to be in need of reform. As a part of
this reform, let the value of land be appraised separately from the
value of improvements thereon in every case. Then we can begin a
series of gradual reductions in the taxes levied on the
improvements, parallel with a series of gradual increases in the
taxes levied against the land. If this were done over a period of
several decades, the land tax could eventually be raised until the
State was receiving approximately all the economic rent, while the
tax on improvements could be reduced to zero ... the net result of
this policy would often be an actual reduction in the total taxes
paid on real property.
By this proposal, we would not only be
improving a system or taxation which is admittedly bad, but we would
be achieving the reform advocated by Henry George by a gradual
approach which would reduce the injustice to vested interests to a
Professor Blodgett offers no clue other than the passage quoted from
Our Expanding Economy to what caused him to change the view he
held -- or endorsed as co-author -- in 1937. In the preface to the
1955 book, however, he does indicate that he fears some might approach
his later book with hostility or at least prejudice because of earlier
views. He expresses the hope "that Our Expanding Economy
will be considered on its merits and not on the basis of any of my
Principles of Economics, by Fred Rogers Fairchild, Norman
Sydney Buck and Reuben Emanuel Slesinger was published in 1954.
According to the publisher it is now "in use in colleges in all
sections of the country." It is claimed by the publisher that
this fairly recent text "has been patterned after Elementary
Economics" -- which in its day was one of the most widely
used texts -- written by Fred Rogers Fairchild, Edgar S. Furniss and
Norman Sydney Buck. The 1954 book superseded the older work. In
1923 the senior author -- Professor Fairchild -- had published Essentials
of Economics, in which he took the same position regarding the
"single tax" as that expressed in the two later books of
which he was a co-author. Thus for over thirty-five years the view now
set forth in Principles of Economics, has been presented to
students in high schools and colleges all over the country.
Professors Fairchild, Buck and Slesinger describe the "single
tax" as the "most extreme form of taxation proposed."
They fear that the tax might easily encroach on
other types of
income and thus act as a deterrent to productive effort.
movement of this kind destroying private property in land, might
destroy many other property rights, because of inability to
distinguish land and its return from other productive factors and
their returns, and might facilitate the launching of a movement for
the wholesale abolition of all private property.
In the 1954 text, Professor Fairchild -- in collaboration with the
other two authors -- gives his student readers the same criticism he
proffered in 1923 though in a somewhat different phraseology:
It is one of the lessons of
history that the most efficient use of land occurs when it is in
private ownership. Much of the motive to such productive use would
be destroyed if owners could not look forward to any gain from the
increased economic rent of their lands; and society would be poorer
because of the diminished utilization of this factor of production.
The last two quoted passages merely assert. The authors do not
present any factual material, either contemporary or historical, to
buttress their assumptions. There is, however, an increasing amount of
data on the effects of raising the local tax on land while at the same
time reducing, or abolishing, the tax on real estate improvements and
other capital. It has been found, for example, that such a change in
the tax system results in an increase in capital; ownership of homes,
farms and business establishments becomes easier. There was less
land held out of use and more modern commercial site development in
municipalities, especially those which had taxed on the land-value
basis for a considerable number of years.
Let us consider a specific case where this reform was adopted. Less
than two years after the property owners of Wangaratta (Victoria) had
voted four to one to adopt land value taxation, the following headline
appeared in the local newspaper:
BUILDING 'WAVE' ENVELOPS WHOLE OF TOWN
In the same issue, the Wangaratta Chronicle Despatch
This seems to be one of
Wangaratta's most energetic years. Announcements of new commercial
building and rebuilding indicate just how rapidly the town is going
ahead. The expansion of Yarrunga's shopping centre is particularly
significant and could set a pattern for suburban centres of the
future in the western and southern sections of Wangaratta.
And this occurred at a time when there was a general recession in
building in Victoria!
From 1923 through 1954, Dr. Fairchild and his various
collaborators, in their discussion of the "single tax,"
have warned against the sort of change Wangaratta citizens
overwhelmingly voted for in 1956!
HENRY GRAYSON and Philipp H. Lohman in
Principles of Economics, discuss the subject in fifteen lines,
part of which reads as follows: "In England
increment is partly taxed out of existence. In this connection the
'single tax' proposal of Henry George is interesting."
In the only cases (in England) where there has been legislation
providing for any special taxation of land values, or of unearned
increment, the legislation was repealed when the Conservatives gained
Perhaps the authors had in mind the development charge in the Town
and Country Planning Act of 1947 -- a provision repealed in 1952 -- in
which the landowners paid to the State a charge for the privilege of
improving their lands. This was not the "single tax" or land
value taxation in the sense understood by advocates of this reform nor
was it closely related to either of them.
In A Key to Modern Economics, David McCord Wright devotes
most of his brief discussion of Henry George and the "single tax"
to pointing out the "several weaknesses in the George thesis."
Professor Wright states that:
If all the increase in land values were taxed away, there would be
less incentive to undertake improvements.
Most countries which
have tried the Georgist thesis have found the expense of administering
the tax is out of proportion to the collections.
If Professor Wright had in mind an increment tax, this -- as was
pointed out in the discussion of the reference by Grayson and Lohman
-- should not be confused with land value taxation.
Let us examine what recently happened in Mildura City -- 351 miles
northwest of Melbourne, Australia -- where taxpayers in August 1956
voted 3-1/2 to 1 in favor of land value taxation. Two years
afterwards, the following was reported: "Building in 1957 broke
all records. And at the present rate, the 1957 record will be broken
The evidence from Mildura City surely does not indicate that the
adoption of the land value tax has resulted in "less incentive to
undertake improvements." Instead, there seems to have been
considerably greater incentive. Similar results have occurred in
Wangaratta and in other Australian towns "with clockwork
When Professor Wright asserts that the expense of administering the
land value tax is excessive relative to its yield, he does not name
the countries he has in mind and he does not support his argument with
citation of sources. In connection with Professor Wright's statement,
the findings of the Taxation Enquiry Committee appointed in 1947 by
the Kenya government (East Africa), regarding local taxation are
certainly relevant. Nairobi, the capital of Kenya Colony, has levied
its rates (taxes) on land values only, since 1921 The report of the
Committee said that the site-rate system is "economical to
From the fiscal point of view and bearing in mind
the present need to encourage development, the Committee favors the
site-value system in the taxation pattern of the Colony and the
principle of levying a comparatively high tax on land, thus ensuring
that it will not be left idle or insufficiently developed for long,
rather than the taxation of improvements." In Australasia the
"cost of administration and collection of the tax constitutes a
very small proportion of the revenue collected." And in "South
Africa, as in Australia, it was shown that, once the practice of
relieving improvements from taxation has been experienced, it remains
established for good."
Again, if "the expense of administering the tax is out of
proportion to the collections," how could it happen, as Dr.
Holland O'Regan reports: "Some 56 New Zealand communities have
adopted land-value taxation, exempting all buildings and improvements,
in the last fourteen years?" (This was by vote of property owners
30 per cent of whom had signed "a petition for land-value
taxation," resulting in a special election called by the
governing body.) Dr. O'Regan commented that "it spreads like a
grease spot." It appears unlikely that citizens would request
such action -- and overwhelmingly vote for it -- if other citizens in
New Zealand and Australia had discovered through experience that the "cost
of administering the tax" was "out of proportion to the
Sol Holt and H. L. McCracken, after presenting two interesting
paragraphs in their text, Economics and You, on what creates
land values in country and city, conclude their brief discussion of
the "single tax," with the statement that it "has never
been seriously considered either by local or national governments."
This statement would seem to imply that these authors were unaware of
any application -- even to a limited degree -- anywhere in the world,
of land value taxation. Yet the history of it in Australasia predates
the twentieth century by more than a decade.
The same lack of knowledge of land value taxation as a going policy
over considerable areas, seems to be revealed by E. A. J. Johnson and
Herman E. Krooss in their The Origins and Development of the
American Economy, when they say that this tax "is farther
from adoption than ever."
Here is the comment on the "Single Tax Proposal," of
Professors J. A. Nordin and Virgil Salera in Elementary Economics:
This plan is extreme enough so
that it never had a very large group of determined partisans; and it
is no longer a political issue.
Apparently the only justification these authors have for devoting two
pages to the discussion of the subject is that "the background of
the plan is interesting because it emphasizes an important
characteristic of land: the total supply is highly inelastic."
The 1957 edition of Economics; Principles and Applications,
by James Harvey Dodd, Carl W. Hasek and T. J. Hailstones, omits
all mention of taxing land values. In the previous edition -- Dodd and
Hasek only -- the authors, like Professor Fairchild, appear to be
concerned lest the institution of private property be undermined by
the "single tax." Their presentation conveys the
impression that beneficiaries of the institution of private property
would naturally oppose any significant change in this direction. Yet
in Wangaratta and Mildura City, as in many other cities and districts
in Australia -- and also in New Zealand -- property owners themselves
have voted overwhelmingly for the adoption of the land value tax
Professors Dodd and Hasek refer to the program as something involving
a fundamental and radical change. Instead of this program, they
vaguely suggest -- not describing or even naming them -- programs
which they consider of a more gradual nature and not so spectacular.
In this connection, it might be noted that the Pittsburgh (also
Scranton) graded tax system was adopted by a gradual process. Over a
period of years the tax on improvements was made progressively smaller
in relation to the rate on land. Thus improvements came to be taxed
less and land more.
Dodd and Hasek express the opinion that there are other sources than
land of unearned income. These, they contend, should be taxed before
taxing, or increasing the tax on, land. Just because there are other
sources of unearned income -- which may often call for enforcement of
competition or for regulation rather than taxation -- it does not
follow that land values should be relieved of taxation.
After summarizing George's philosophy, Shorey Peterson comments in
His proposal still has organized support. In certain instances it has
been applied in a small way by levying heavier property taxes on land
than on buildings and improvements.
Professor Peterson adds:
Confiscating rent would destroy
the value of land; and its present owners, for the most part, are
not the ones who held it when it acquired its value. Income from the
land itself is badly tangled with the income from the capital
invested in developing it, and the returns are hardly separable.
the whole land-rent matter seems less serious than it did in the
last century, and other aspects of distribution now cause greater
concern. This, at least, is true in the United States.
Henry George and the "Single Taxers" are lumped by
Professor Peterson with the Socialists and with Huey Long who proposed
a "Share the Wealth" movement in the United States in the
Nineteen Thirties. In this connection Professor Peterson says:
Earlier, Henry George and the
Single Taxers tried to get rid of the natural-resource element in
inequality by taxing away the economic rent of land
rearrangement of wealth ownership or income from it may look easy,
the difficulties are actually great if the structure of capitalism
is to be retained.
This is the expression of an opinion by the author but without
citation of any factual material to support it. On the contrary, so
far as land value taxation is concerned, an increasing body of data
indicates that to increase taxes on bare-land values and reduce them
on capital strengthens the incentives on which capitalism must
Professor Peterson, too, like many other textbook writers, appears to
be disturbed over vested rights, which have been discussed earlier in
this paper in connection with Professors Bye and Blodgett's Getting
A.Smith Pond's Essential Economics, with nearly fifty
recorded adoptions, might at first glance be regarded as comparatively
objective. This is the author's comment on the "single tax":
A limited group of economists
urges heavy taxation of this form of income as a substitute for
other taxes. They insist that by freeing other income of taxation,
incentives to produce will be strengthened, whereas rent is not
needed as an incentive to production. They also contend that
taxation of land rent on the basis of the highest income the land
could yield will force land into those uses and thus produce the
greatest benefit to society.
The author objects to such a tax because
land is not the only source of
rent, that it is difficult to measure rents accurately
there would be danger of discrimination against landowners,
particularly against those who had purchased their land in
preference to making other types of investments . . .
Professor Pond insists that "it is difficult to measure rents
accurately." Let us assume that it isn't possible to make an
absolutely accurate separation of land value and improvement value.
Does it necessarily follow that because of possible danger of
accidentally and occasionally taxing improvement values, in attempting
to tax land values only, it is better to deliberately and
purposely tax all improvements all the time than to
make an honest attempt to exempt them?
C. Lowell Harriss' work, The American Economy, ranked third
in number of known adoptions. His two-page discussion of what causes
land values to rise -- unearned increment -- refers to some making "a
killing." But he does not suggest taxation as a remedy.
In the third edition (1959), what had been, in the previous edition,
a seven-line footnote summary of Henry George's economic views as
expressed in Progress and Poverty, was incorporated into the
text with this addition: "Removal of taxes on buildings would
In commenting on those who "strike oil" or acquire sudden
wealth from owning land "with highly valuable resources
underneath," Professor Harriss remarks that:
The 'have nots,' most of us, often
suspect that more of the benefits of nature's gifts might
appropriately go to the public as a whole. Chapter 32, "Taxation: Principles and Practice,"
is devoted to a discussion of taxation, including the corporation tax,
the income tax and the like. No mention, however, is made of land
value taxation -- or even the "single tax." Regarding the
effect of an income tax on incentive, the author says:
The net incentive aspects of
personal income taxation are a great unknown. A horse arid a rabbit
in a stew make a mixture of unequal proportions. So do high taxes --
stimulating and depressing.
When we stop to think, does the
system not seem topsy-turvy? If we produce more, or run a business
more efficiently, we are penalized for our extra contribution. The
more we do what others want, the more we must sacrifice for
government, and not proportionately but progressively more.
Land value taxation is designed to give the relief which Professor
Harriss appears to feel is needed. He does not himself make any
mention of it in this connection, however, nor does he offer any other
The section entitled "Fuller Utilization of Human Capacities"
is a discussion of ways in which the productivity of workers can be
increased, but Professor Harriss does not suggest that land value
taxation could contribute even slightly toward this goal whether by
increasing the available amount of good land or by lessening the
penalty on saving and the increase of capital equipment.
In Chapter 40, "Economic Problems Ahead," Dr. Harriss has
this to say about urban blight, slums and housing:
Urban blight curses every city as
older areas deteriorate. It spreads . . .
Urban blight is no modern creation, but neither the ancients nor we
moderns have mastered it. Unfortunately, in another 15 years we may
find that many of the cheaper housing developments built since World
War II have become new centers of blight, bringing losses not only
to the owners and users but to many more in areas around. But there
must be some possibility of prevention.
The years ahead will bring difficult housing problems. The millions
of the poor are likely to find slums increasingly expensive. To meet
the crude, quantitative needs for our population growth, the economy
will be able to build enough housing units though rising land and
construction costs will not be easily met by the masses.
For these problems Professor Harriss does not suggest a solution. He
-- as this survey shows to be the case with nearly all authors of
economics textbooks -- makes no mention of land value taxation as
having any bearing on them. Nor does he refer to the experience of
New Zealand in combating slums or to Wangaratta, Mildura City,
Moorabbin or any other Australian city's experience in increasing
Moorabbin "is the largest of the municipalities which together
comprise Greater Melbourne", (Australia). For years "its
development lagged behind that of many smaller Melbourne
municipalities" that exempted buildings and taxed land values. "Much
land was held vacant for speculation." In 1946, after a vote by
taxpayers in its favor, Moorabbin adopted land value taxation. Twelve
years later (August 22, 1958) "the Moorabbin Standard-News
published a special supplement featuring the growth of the city from
obscurity to one of the most important municipalities in Victoria."
The Moorabbin Standard-News further stated that it "has
established its place as Victoria's fastest growing municipality
and the second fastest growing city in Australia." This growth
had been in "all of its phases -- population, industry, commerce,
housing, parklands and civic amenities." In view of the
possibility of other influences, it is not contended that a single
case is conclusive. But with an increasing number of cities or
municipalities -- in Victoria alone there are more than forty
local authorities that have adopted land value taxation - showing
favorable results from this tax policy, it would seem that the
evidence should not be completely ignored by writers of textbooks in
IN THE 1946 EDITION of John Ise's
Economics, the presentation of the "single tax"
(Chapter 31, "Some Land Problems"), was concluded -- except
for incidental reference -- with these words:
If confiscation of land or rent is
ethically indefensible, and if State appropriation with fair
compensation offers no important advantages, what point is there to
any discussion of the single tax?
The logical answer might
seem to be that it is of no significance, but this is not correct .
. . . since a tax on land, or rent, has definite advantages over
taxes on capital or productive enterprise, the State should move in
the general direction of heavier land taxes whenever it is necessary
to increase revenues. Any new tax, any change in the tax system,
involves some injustice because it imposes a burden which the people
have not included in their calculations. Even so, when the state and
federal governments change their tax systems, as they frequently do,
they might well consider the relatively less burdensome land tax. If
injustice must be done, let it be done in the furtherance of an
intelligent general policy. It is no more unjust to raise taxes on
land than to raise taxes on capital, and the long-run effects, as we
have seen, are less harmful.
Professor Ise's revised Economics omits the passages just
quoted. In fact the entire section entitled in the earlier work, "The
Land Tax in Future Tax Systems," was deleted from the later
edition. Consequently when the student gets to the study questions at
the end of the chapter, he is not prepared - as was the student of the
first edition - to answer questions under 4. The questions are as
Is there any more justice in
taking a man's land rent from him if he has paid for the land, than
in taking his bonds or stock? Would it not be unjust to expropriate
land without compensating the owners, and unprofitable to pay them
what the land is worth? If so, what is the point of talking about a
It appears likely that the deleted paragraphs were inadvertently
omitted -- or the questions inadvertently left in! -- from the 1930
edition. In either case the student is prepared only to give "the
logical answer," and is left with the bald interrogatory
what is the point of talking about a single tax?"
Would a student reading the revised edition be likely to have any
further interest in the subject? For the fact is, whatever the
explanation, that Professor Ise has expunged from the 1950 edition his
two most sympathetic paragraphs.
ONE OF THE FEW economics texts to break with the general pattern as
revealed by this study, is
Economics: Experience & Analysis, by Broadus Mitchell,
Anatol Murad, Monroe Berkowitz and William G. Bagley. This text
first states the "objections to the single tax," and then
undertakes to refute them. The last section of the discussion presents
"Advantages of a Land Tax." This arrangement is contrary to
the usual pattern-when the subject is discussed at all. As this survey
has shown, most texts present a point or two in favor of the "single
tax," then conclude by setting forth objections, which are
generally made to appear insurmountable.
Perhaps many or most of the textbook writers intended to present and
believe they have presented an unbiased discussion of the "single
tax." If so, then an unbiased discussion -- as indicated in the
foregoing survey -- means presenting the "single tax" as
though it has no bearing on contemporary problems or policy. It means
that the proposal is regarded merely as art historical curiosity to be
viewed very briefly and put back into moth balls. It means treating
only Henry George and his philosophy as he expressed it over 80 years
ago in Progress and Poverty, and including, perhaps, a few
sentences on his campaign for the mayoralty of New York City. It means
presenting the subject as though nothing had been done anywhere since
1879 by way of substituting increased taxes on land values for taxes
on other property. It means a few words indicating that in theory his
proposal might have some advantage, but dismissing it on the grounds
that it would be unjust since the plan was not put into effect in the
very beginning. Or it means raising some other objection against any
further consideration of the matter.
Many of the objections set forth in the textbooks surveyed are again
raised in a 1959 publication, Economics: Theory and Practice,
by Melvin J. Ulmer. The author, who is a department chairman, is or
has been advisor to several government agencies, business advisor,
journalist, research economist and lecturer. He is described by the
publishers as "an able teacher of both graduates and
A picture of Henry George, with mention that he lost the campaign for
mayor of New York City by a narrow margin, preceded a brief historical
sketch and discussion of the "single tax." Professor Ulmer
thought that in theory' the idea could have worked but fortunately it
was never tried; practically, the administrative difficulties would
have been mountainous . . . How could one separate that portion of
rent which goes for capital improvements, management, and the
maintenance of property? To tax these away would be disastrous . .
According to Dr. Ulmer, this proposal "would be hard to justify
on any basis," since one who invests in land
is no better or worse, morally,
than an investor in a factory or a barber shop. Nor, generally, can
he be any more certain of a profit
the payment of rent does
perform a useful social purpose; for when landlords hold out for the
highest returns they can get, they force land into its most
THE PURPOSE of this survey, as stated at the beginning, was to
discover what college textbooks presented on land value taxation. But
since no mention was found in the indexes under that heading, it was
necessary to check under such related headings as: Henry George, the "single
tax," etc. The chapter or section on taxation, as such, excluded
even the "single tax" except in only a few texts in which
there was the barest incidental reference. All this points to the fact
that only a very few textbook writers view Henry George's proposal as
could be built upon, developed and perfected. Indeed, even the
most sympathetic presentation -- of the texts examined -- made no
mention of any application, however limited, of this system of
Students of the airplane would not be shown only models of the Kitty
Hawk designed by Orville and Wilbur Wright, and told that "since
this plane had many defects, we ought never to manufacture airplanes."
This illustration may appear to the reader as far-fetched! But here is
the point. In most matters we look at history, seek to draw useful
conclusions and improve on the past by applying what has been learned
to the present situation. But this survey shows that textbooks in
economics, with almost no exceptions, stop with Henry George and the "single
tax." The authors appear to see no bearing of land value taxation
on present-day problems such as: the waste of holding substantial
amounts of good land out of use for decades, the high cost of housing,
slums, urban obsolescence and redevelopment. No attempt is made to
inform the student of the growing experience with land value taxation
in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Denmark and elsewhere.
In contrast to the general pattern of textbooks in economics are two
by Raymond T. Bye and William W. Hewett. This discussion will be
concerned primarily with the later of the two, The Economic
Referring to the contention that land is "a gift of nature which
rightfully belongs to society at large, and not to any privileged land
owning class," the authors continue:
Properly understood, this argument
is substantially sound
we will see that land rent is unearned
by the landlord. Land performs a great service in production, to be
sure; but the landowner, merely as an owner, does not. He is not
responsible for the existence of the land. It would be there, with
all its natural advantages, no matter what became of him. It would
have been there if he had never been born. Nor is the value of the
land the result of any action performed by him. Some lands naturally
possess better qualities than others, and he who owns them can
profit by those qualities. As population grows and the land becomes
scarce, it simply acquires a value which the landowner can take.
The authors class the rent of land (not return from
improvements) as unearned increment. They contend that many
fortunes have been acquired in this manner and express the opinion
that private receipt of unearned increment should be prevented
by appropriate means." In regard to owners of land, the authors
say that they should receive interest and wages from all they have
done to improve it. "More than this they cannot fairly claim. But
such interest and such wages are not, strictly speaking, a part of
They then refer to objections some have made to this view, such as
that "land rent is justified by the risks which are run by the
landowner." Also that the landowner "is entitled to the
reward that results from his cleverness," i.e., because he has
sufficient foresight "to anticipate the growth of a community,
and is willing to risk his judgment by acquiring a piece of land which
he believes likely to improve in value.
By an almost identical line of reasoning [Professors Bye and Hewett
reply] we could defend the gains made by criminals in a payroll
hold-up! But we should not pay people for running risks, unless this
can be shown to contribute some useful service to the community. The
mere holding and leasing of land contributes no such service;
therefore it cannot be justified.
One objection to the "single tax," pointed out by these
authors, is that
the expenses of government have
risen so much in recent years that the appropriation of land rents
by the state would not begin to cover these expenses, let alone
provide for all the social reforms and abolish poverty, as
visualized by the Single Taxers.
But, they maintain,
there is merit in the idea that
the rent of land should go to the community, instead of to private
landowners; and taxation seems to be the most suitable means for
bringing this about.
The authors suggest a method of bringing about such a reform almost
imperceptibly. It is
to begin now to separate the tax
on land from the taxes on improvements. This is already done in some
communities, and could easily be done everywhere. Then the tax on
the improvements could gradually be reduced over a long period of
years, while that on the bare land was correspondingly increased. In
the course of time the land taxes could be raised to the point where
the entire rental value of the land was paid by the tenants to the
In essence, this is what was done by the graded tax for Pittsburgh
and Scranton, Pennsylvania, although that tax does not go as far.
And this is what every third class city in Pennsylvania has been
empowered to do through the enabling legislation passed in 1951 and in
Until more than a very few texts are published -- and are widely
adopted -- which present the land value tax policy as bearing on the
solution of present-day problems and as a feasible and desirable
reform, how can any appreciable number of students become interested
in it? How can there be action by these students when later they are
journalists, members of city councils, legislators or merely
THIS INVESTIGATION was confined to textbooks supplied by publishers,
anxious to promote sales, to the chairman of the economics department
in a state university and in a medium-sized college. A few of the
earlier books had been transferred from such a collection to the
college library serving that institution. These were books in
Principles, Intermediate Economics, History of Economics and
In addition to analyzing these books, publisher's catalogs and
circulars were examined. Letters were sent to twenty-one publishers --
concerning fifty books-to ascertain how many institutions have been,
.or are currently, using the books with which this study is mainly
concerned. One publisher would give information only if their
publications were being seriously considered for adoption. Another
company regarded their data on adoptions as "confidential."
Some firms were unable to furnish such a record, the implication being
that the use of their texts did not justify preparing lists. Perhaps a
publisher would not wish to reveal a lack of adoptions. One firm
reported on orders from representative institutions during the 'past
year, which could not in fairness be compared with lists of adoptions
for other texts.
Lists of adoptions -- or a list of representative institutions
ordering re-recently-were obtained for twenty textbooks. But all such
lists must be in flux. All lists indicate they are "A Partial
List" or "A Representative List" and not a complete
record of institutions using a particular book. Since all such lists
are undated-though supposedly of fairly recent vintage -- a text could
be used for a year or more, be superseded by another, yet continue to
remain on the publisher's list. A cross checking of the lists obtained
revealed that many institutions are reportedly using in the "principles"
course two or more different books. For such reasons, no precise
figures for the number of adoptions of any text can be given.
1. Further detail -- including qualifications --
will be found in the Appendix.
2. William A. Pawn. Shirtsleeve Economics; a Commonsense Survey,
New York. Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1952, on p. 106 refers in a
footnote to H. G. Brown, "The Challenge of Australian Tax Policy,"
Am. J. Econ. Social., July 1949.
3. Economics, an Introduction to Analysis and Policy, 2d ed.,
Englewood Cliffs, N. J., Prentice-Hall, 1957; also 1st ed., 1954. (At
time of investigation there were over 271 reported adoptions.) Same
statement applies to the 3rd ed., 1960, which appeared after
manuscript was completed.
4. 3rd ed., New York, Harper, 1955, p. 281, italics supplied.
5. Rev. ed., New York, Harper, 1954.
6. Ibid., p. 666.
7. Ibid., p. 667.
8. Ibid., p. 666.
9. Ibid., p. 667.
10. H. G. Brown in "The Challenge of Australian Tax Policy,"
Am.J. Econ. Social., 8 (1949), p. 380. This article summarizes
the statistical stuthes made by the Land Values Research Group of
Melbourne, of which Mr. A. R. Hutchinson is the Research Director.
Concerning these stuthes, Mr. F. J. Craigie said they "have been
accepted as reliable in Australia" See Land Value Taxation
Around the World, New York, Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1955,
11. Wangaratta Chronicle Despatch, June 5, 1958, "Building
'Wave' Envelops Whole of Town." (Wangaratta is an important town
about 145 miles northeast of Melbourne, Australia.) A facsimile
reproduction of a considerable portion of the front page including
headlines of the Wangaratta Chronicle Despatch appeared in
Land & Liberty, 65 (London, England, Aug., 1958), p. 136.
Recognition of the stimulating effect of a land value tax policy can
be found in the literature of nearly half a century ago. See, for
example, Yetta Scheftel, The Taxation of Land Value, a Study of
Certain Discriminatory Taxes on Land, Boston, Houghton Mifflin,
1916, pp. 107-20. Her investigation showed that "the land tax"
had been found to increase the amount of building, decrease the amount
of vacant land and stimulate business.
12. Economics, an Introductory Analysis, 4th ed., New York,
McGraw Hill, 1958. First published in 1948, 2nd ed. in 1951, 3rd ed.
in 1955. No record could be secured regarding the number of adoptions.
The present writer, however, has personal knowledge of a considerable
number of institutions, in widely varying sections of the United
States, which have been, or are currently, using Samuelson.
13. From a review by L. C. Fitch of Samuelson's Foundations of
Economic Analysis, in Political Science Quarterly, 63
(1948), p. 474.
14. Samuelson, op. cit., p. 529.
15. Ibid., ppl. 529, 540.
16. Baumol and Chandler, op. cit., p.667.
17. Our Expanding Economy, an Introduction, New York,
Rinehart, 1955, p.439.
18. Ibid., p.440.
19. Getting and Earning, a Study of Inequality, New York,
F.S. Crofts, 1937, p.89.
20. Ibid., p.96.
21. Ibid., p.103.
22. Ibid., p.105.
23. Robert L. Heilbroner in his The Worldly Philosophers: the
lives, times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers, New York,
Simon Schuster, 1953), p. 182, wrote of Henry George as follows: "He
was a religious man; let us hope that his soul went straight to
heaven. As for his reputation -- that went straight into the
underworld of economics and there he exists today; almost-Messiah,
semicrackpot, and disturbing questioner of the morality of our world."
It is interesting to note that in his book of 342 pages, Henry George
is the only individual about whom Heilbroner writes in such terms.
24. Bye and Blodgett, op. cit., pp. 111-2.
25. Ibid., p.114.
26. Ibid., p.120.
27. Blodgett, op. cit. p. v.
28. New York, Macmillan, 1954.
29. New York, Macmillan, 1924, with 5th ed. In 1948.
30. New York, American Book Company, 1923.
31. Fairchild, Buck and Slesinger, op. cit., pp.363, 364-5.
32. Loc. cit. Cf. wording of this passage with Fairchild,
Essentials of Economics, op. cit. pp. 525-6; also
quoted and criticized in H. G. Brown's The Economic Basis of Tax
Reform, Columbia, Mo., Lucas Brothers, 1932, pp. 53-60.
33. H. G. and E. R. Brown, The Effective Answer to Communism,
New York, Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1958, pp. 12-19.
34. Ibid., pp. 20-2.
35. Land & Liberty, op. cit., aug., 1958, p.136.
36. New York, American Book Company, 1958, p.626.
37. Land Value Taxation Around the World, op. cit.,
pp. 146, 150-1.
38. Ibid., pp. 154, 155-6, 158; also Land & Liberty,
op. cit., Oct. and Nov. 1952, p.111, April-May 1914, p. 40.
Mr. V. H. Blundell, Secretary of the United Committee for the Taxation
of Land Values, Ltd., confirmed in a letter dated Aug. 31, 1959 that
the Development Charge had been abolished as stated in the reference
here cited. Some night think of the Town and Country Planning Act as
somewhat related to the system at one time widely" used in
Germany, referred to as "increment taxes." This, too, is
different from and not to be confused with land value taxation. See
Land Value Taxation Around the World, op. cit., pp.
193-8 for a more detailed discussion.
39. New York, Macmillan, 1954, pp. 478-9. Cf. the view presented by
Melville J. Ulmer in Economics: Theory and Practice, Boston,
Houghton Mifflin, 1959, p. 512.
40. Land & Liberty, op. cit., Aug. 1958, p.136.
41. Loc. cit.
42. Land Value Taxation Around the World, op. cit.,
43. Scheftel, op. cit., p.95.
44. Land Value Taxation Around the World, op. cit.,
p.46. Cf. Scheftel, op. cit., p.120.
45. Christian Science Monitor, July 29, 1958 (Pacific
edition). A review of an interview with Dr. Rolland O'Regan -- a
leading Wellington surgeon and president of the New Zealand League for
Land-Value Taxation -- by the Monitor's Pacific correspondent, Mr.
Harlan Trott. (Report reprinted in Land & Liberty,
op. cit., Sept. 1958, p.149.)
46. Sol Holt and H. L. McCracken, Economics and You, New
York, Scribner's, 1954, p. 90. Cf. Ulmer, op. cit., p. 512.
According to the publisher's report, Economics and You is used
only in high schools and perhaps a few colleges and junior colleges.
47. Brown, The Effective Answer to Communism, op. cit.,
p. 21. See also Scheftel, op. cit., chapters II and III.
48. The Origins and Development of the American Economy; an
Introduction to Economics, New York, Prentice-Hall, 1953.
49. New York, Prentice-Hall, 1950, p. 340.
50. 3rd ed., Cincinnati, South-Western Publishing Company, 1957.
51. James Harvey Dodd, C.W. Hasek, Economics, Principles and
Applications, 2d ed., Cincinnati, South-Western Publishing
Company, 1952, pp. 325-6.
52. Percy R. Williams, "Pittsburgh's Graded Tax in Full
Operation," National Municipal Review, 14 (Dec. 1925).
53. Rev. ed., New York, Holt, 1954, p.674.
54. Ibid., p.707.
55. Brown, Effective Answer to Communism, op. cit.,
pp. 18-19, 80, 91-3.
56. Essential Economics, an Introduction, New York, Harcourt,
Brace, 1956, p.176.
57. The American Economy; Principles, Practices and Policies,
rev. ed., Homewood, Ill., Richard D. Irwin, Inc., 1956, pp.487-8.
58. 3rd ed., Homewood, Ill., Richard D. Irwin, Inc., 1959, p.548.
59. Loc. cit.
60. Ibid., p.670.
61. Ibid., pp. 782-5.
62. Ibid., pp. 840, 842.
63. For a recent discussion which emphasized the relation of land
value taxation to urban blight, slums and housing see E.R. Brown, "Growing
Urban Obsolescence and Tax Policy," Am. J. Econ. Sociol.,
19 (Oct. 1959), pp. 96-8.
64. Land & Liberty, op. cit., 66 (Aug. 1959), p.
65. Land & Liberty, op. cit. (July 1959), p. 121.
66. New York and London, Harper, 1946, p. 452.
67. New York, Harper, 1950.
68. Ibid., p. 585.
69. New York, William Sloane Associates, 1950, pp. 461-5.
70. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1959, p. viii (unnumbered page).
71. Ibid.., p. 512.
72. Loc. cit.
73. Applied Economics; the Application of Economic Principles to
the Problems of Economic Life, 3rd ed. rev., New York, F. S.
Crofts, 1938, and The Economic Process, its Principles and
Problems, New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1952.
74. Ibid., p. 683.
75. See especially in this connection, Applied Economics,
op. cit., pp. 447-9, 466-7, 470. A briefer presentation -- though
expressing a similar viewpoint -- appears in the 5th ed., 1960, pp.
76. This and the following quoted passages, except for the two in
footnote 77, are from pp. 683-5 of The Economic Process,
op. cit.. For a view diametrically opposite to that of Bye and
Hewttt, see Ulmer. op. cit., p. 512.
77. Bye and Hewett also mention (op. cit., p.686) and comment
briefly on, other methods of "achieving the social appropriation
of land rents" but say that "it is doubtful whether they
would be politically as feasible as the method of gradually increasing
78. Williams, op. cit.
79. Albert Pleydell, "New York City Tax Policies and the Housing
Shortage," Am. J. Econ. Social., 19 (April, 1960), pp.