Review of the Book

For the Good of All:
War, Taxes and Politics in the Light of Ethical Principles

by Gilbert M. Tucker

Frank H. Knight

[Reprinted from The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Sep., 1944), p. 161]

A title so lofty and sweet should cause the wary reader to expect a preachment of some kind rather than a treatise or an essay -- and his guess would be right. Mr. Tucker's book is propaganda for the single-tax theory of Henry George.

In tone, it is of the gentle-persuasion rather than any high-pressure type, or even the evangelistic eloquence of the Master. But, as to the validity of the prophetic message, there is, as usual, no room for doubt: "The way to right these wrongs is simple and clear if only we will see it" (p. 103).

To the student of ways of thinking, with a little understanding of economics, the doctrine of the single tax on land has a peculiar interest. It is a shining if not a unique example of a social panacea, an easy solution for hard problems, reached by reasoning from premises which look plausible and are commonly accepted as axioms. It is the least excusable of the social-economic heresies, unless it be its close relative, the labor theory of value, and both may be blamed upon the early modern political economists.

It is an "intellectual" fallacy, and not likely to do much damage; it is not nearly so dangerous as, for example, crackpot theories of money. This is in part because the money problem is really more difficult and subtle, but more because too many voters have firsthand experience with landowning, or have observed such experience at too close range, to act, even collectively, on the theory that owning land is an automatic method for making money at the expense of society.

As to the economic theories involved in the question, the premises are all false. Land is not a monopoly, it is not and never was a costless gift of God or Nature to man, and its value is not socially created in a sense significantly different from what is true of any other wealth. (If this were so, a particular nation would, of course, have no more ethical right to it than a particular individual.) Nor is land value peculiar in being speculative, nor in the fact that, on the whole, speculation is a losing game.

Finally, the falsity of the main conclusion is as evident as that of the premises. Prospective increase in value is no motive for holding any wealth idle, and taxation on the basis of potential yield will not tend to force any idle resource into use. The only argument which would have any validity in this connection is the general socialistic one that government officials are likely to direct economic activity better than private individuals, without distinction between forms of productive capacity, including labor.