A Statement in Support of
the Single Tax on Land
James R. Brown
[Reprinted from the 23rd Annual Report , New York
Department of Agriculture, for Year Ended 20 Sept, 1915]
We mean by the single tax, one tax, and that levied upon the value of
land exclusive of all improvements, in lieu of all other taxes. How
would this affect the farmer? The opponents of the single tax go to
the farmer and tell him that the single tax is a tax on land, and that
he should oppose it. This is absolutely untrue. The purpose of the
opponents is to get the farmer to oppose any change in our present
dishonest and stupid tax system, which enables the opponents of the
single tax to put into their private pockets large amounts of public
The single tax is the lightest tax the farmer can pay, because the
average farmer has very little land value. Very little of the farm
values of the state are land values; they are labor values. AN
ordinary farm worth $10,000 in this state has not more than $500 of
land value. Deduct the labor values represented by the house, barn,
outbuildings, fences, drains, orchards, crops and conditions of
culture, not more than $500 would remain that could be said to be real
If we were to assess 5 per cent, on the land values of this state the
sum total raised from all the agricultural lands would not exceed
$25,000,000, while the land values of New York City lots alone, at
that rate, would raise over $250,000,000.
No wonder the land speculators want to continue a system of taxation
that exempts so much land value in the great cities and loads down
with taxes the labor values of the rural districts.
There is no doubt of the fanner being overtaxed. The entire value of
all the farms in the state, exclusive of the results of labor thereon,
does not amount to $400,000,000, while in New York City the assessed
value of the ordinary lots, excluding docks and the valuable land
franchises, amounts to $5,000,000,000.
Now, taxation is payment for social service. A citizen should pay for
what he gets from society. It must be clear to any ordinary mortal,
that the value of that service is not what a man does for himself. If
a farmer builds a barn, is that a service rendered by society? If not,
what moral right has the town to send an increased tax bill, having
rendered no service, nor increased its expenditure on behalf of that
farmer? The building of the barn was a service rendered to the farmer
by himself. He gets nothing more from the county after he built the
barn than he did before he built it, and any tax collected thereon is
simply plain stealing by due process of law.
This characterization applies to all taxes levied upon all labor
values. Now if we were to assess a tax of 5 per cent, on the land
values of this state, we would have so much money we would be
delirious with joy, and it would cut down immensely the amounts now
unjustly collected from the farmers and the rural districts generally.
An ordinary farm of one hundred acres worth $10,000, with modern
improvements, would have not more than $500 land value. If money was
worth 5 per cent, in the open market, supposing the single tax was
applied in its fullness, that farmer would pay $25 per year in full
payment for all services rendered him by society. This may seem like a
small amount, and it should by right be a small amount, for the
services society renders the farmer are very few. Water? The wheezy
pump is his own dug well. Sewer? Slops thrown out of the back door.
Light? John D's energy bought by the gallon at a good price. .Roads?
Mainly made by the farmers themselves, and they look it. Schools? Of a
meager quality. As to location and convenience - several miles from
any good town. If he wants a plow point or a pound of tea, it means a
drive to the store with loss of time for man and team. If he goes to
church to thank God for the great advantages of farm life, it is
probably a long drive. If he wants to attend a theater, the average
farmer in this state would have to go a hundred miles, and to visit a
first-class store about the same distance.
The only true measure of the value of social presence and social
service, is the value of the land, exclusive of improvements, that a
man possesses. All social service, such as water, sewers, light,
police and fire protection, sidewalks and street paving, cleaning,
etc., are reflected in the value of the land, but not in the value of
the buildings or in any of the improvements on or in the land.
A man having a home in New York City, on a lot 25 x 100 feet, the
land worth about $20,000, gets infinitely more from society in the way
of social advantage than a farmer way up the state, whose farm
consists of labor values amounting to $9,500, and land values of $500.
The city man is within thirty minutes of the New York Central or
Pennsylvania railroad stations, where he can get a train to whirl him
away to any part of this continent. He is within thirty minutes of
Grand Opera, or the best theaters in the world, or in the same lapse
of time he can be aboard the ocean steamships that will convey him to
any part of the world. He is also close to natural history and art
museums, libraries, schools, colleges and universities. The best
stores in the world are within a few blocks of his house. In fact he
can have no desire that cannot be more easily satisfied in that city
than anywhere else on this continent. In a word, he receives from
society the maximum advantage from social presence and social
utilities, and the sum total of all these things is registered in the
enormous land values of the great city.
To understand how great the amount of the land values of New York, I
have but to draw attention to the fact that the ordinary lot values of
the city are assessed at over $5,000,000,000 and the assessed value of
all improvements thereon is only $3,000,000,000.
The farmers of this state complain - and not without great and just
reason - that they are over-taxed. Their attempts to throw off this
unjust burden has been like the blind mule in the swamp - the more he
struggled the deeper he sank in the mire. The reason may be laid to
the farmer's lack of economic knowledge, for he did not know that to
tax labor values is to increase the cost of living and to restrict
production. When we tax stocks of goods we but increase the price of
the goods to the people who use them. When we tax mortgages, we either
raise the rate of interest, or-make it harder to raise money on
mortgage. When we tax money in bank, it is with the same result.
You cannot tax the wealthy person, if that is your purpose, by taxing
wealth. Again we should not tax men, or attempt to do so, simply
because they are wealthy. We should tax or charge men for the full
value of what they get from society. A man should pay for what he
gets, not for what he has. It makes no difference whether he is
dealing with a storekeeper or with society.
The disastrous result of our wicked tax system cannot be
overestimated. We raise the cost of living by taxing labor products,
and we also raise the cost of living by failing to tax land values
fully. The reason is this: we offer a greater reward and increasingly
greater as time goes on, to the land speculator, paying him to
withhold large areas of valuable land from the use of labor and
capital, making land artificially scarce and very dear in our great
centers of population, thereby raising rents and shutting the door of
opportunity on labor and capital, as well as destroying the farmer's
market. The high rents of our cities has a ruinous effect upon the
city dweller's ability to buy farm products.
The income of the average worker in the cities is $500 a year. His
rent averages $250 a year. After he meets the demands of the landlord,
and that is the first call, he has little left to buy labor products
of mill, factory or farm.
We will succeed in putting the tax burden where it belongs and where
it can most easily be borne only when we take social value for social
Our present stupid and criminal tax method punishes the good and
rewards the evil. It tines those who use their opportunities and gives
a premium to those who do not. We have made it more profitable to be
an idler and a grafter than to he a worker.
A man named Wendell recently died in New York. He was noted for one
thing -he never did anything useful. He was a large owner of land, but
he never spent a dollar for a pound of nails, a foot of lumber, brick
or mortar-never rendered any service or produced a dollar's worth of
wealth. Yet he died worth $80,000,000. After such a life of idleness,
you ask, " How such remarkable results? "Whence came the
Aladdin's lamp?" What was the mystic power that secured for an
idler $80,000,000?" It was our thieving tax system that gave
public made property or value to this man. Then to add to the sum of
its folly, the city, after giving away its true and honest revenue,
must commit grand larceny by taking large sums of private property to
replace the revenue which it should rightfully have claimed and taken.
Our present tax system is a fraud and a humbug, advocated by knaves
and believed in by fools. Our tax rolls are but a collection of
guesses favored by favoritism and fraud. Our whole method of raising
public revenue is but grand and petty larceny from beginning to end.
We rob the producing citizen of his private property for public use,
and rob society of its public property by giving land value to private
If a man paints, repairs or improves a house, we fine him. If he
plants a tree, builds a barn, erects a fence, clears up his farm and
makes it by labor more productive, we punish him. We have made it more
profitable to hold land idle than to use it For that reason in all our
cities there is twice as much idle land as there is used land. On many
of our principal streets a small percentage or our buildings are
Where should we raise public revenue? Is it not clear that we should
raise it from the area benefited by social utilities and not from
private production. If we follow this principle it would relieve the
farmers of a great burden they now carry, and make the men pay who are
in reality best able to pay, because they get the most from society.
Who opposes the single tax aside from those who are ignorant of its
principles and know not what they do. The opponents of the single tax
consist of the easy-money fraternity, polite grafters, but grafters
nevertheless - the men who want something for nothing, who hunger to
gather where others have sown; men who wish to enjoy the fruits of
labor without the annoyance of laboring.
The single tax would relieve labor and capital from an enormous and
unjust burden. It will lower the cost of living, it will increase the
earnings of labor and real capital. It will force into use land now
held out of use for speculation, and thereby increase the
opportunities for labor and capital. It will lower rents in our great
cities and thereby improve the market for farmers' products. It will
produce a normal and natural parity between the value of the
opportunity to produce, and the value of the things produced.
It will but take for social use, social value. It will not take
anything that any man produces and to which he has a moral title. It
will not offer any reward to idleness as our present system does; but
it will secure to labor and capital their full production. What is the
fruit of this evil tree that we in our ignorance have planted and
nourished all these years? Idle men and idle capital, low wages and
low interest, the streets filled with beggars, the highways with
tramps, the homes of the workers with poverty, the lives of business
men with carking care. It has made our social life a horrid thing -
want, suffering and crime on every hand.
Luxurious idleness produces enforced idleness. The stream of human
misery flows on like the river in the midst of the sea; a resistless,
never-ceasing tide, destroying everything lovable in millions of lives
- more dangerous than " the arrow that flieth by day, and the
pestilence that walketh by night." There are no social ills that
cannot be traced to our wicked and unjust tax system.
Social value for social use; private property for private use - are
the only sound principles upon which to base a system of public