The Critics of Henry George Criticized:
A Summary

Jack Schwartzman

[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, September-October 1942]

This will bring to a conclusion the long series of articles begun two years ago in an attempt to rebut all arguments directed against the Single Tax.

In this final article the objections which appeared most often are summarized, arranged, in as few groups as practicable and answered collectively.

It is hoped that this series has been of value to those Georgeists who have seriously been seeking refutations of the criticisms with which they have been confronted. In any case, it should serve its purpose, which is to acquaint the followers of Henry George with the objections used against him.

The following are the summarized objections:

  1. It is impossible to separate the value of land from the value of improvements. Therefore, a tax on land values will penalize certain improvements.
  2. Taxing land values would destroy the value of land, so that the owner would not have any incentive to own land of produce upon it.
  3. All value is a social product.

    (a) There is no reason for the division between personal and real property since both were created by God.

    (b) Labor exerted on land requires compensation in the form of the finished product, which includes land.
  4. The Single Tax would confiscate land which the owners have purchased in good faith, thereby acquiring "indefeasible rights."
  5. Speculators are entitled to their profits.

    (a) Since the land speculator stands the loss without compensation, he should be entitled to the profits.

    (b) Speculators do the actual work in anticipating the trend of popular demand.
  6. A single tax is undesirable since there are monopolies which would not be taxed.
  7. The Single Tax would result in lower rents and greater improvements, which would cause employers to slash wages.
  8. The unearned increment is distributed widely among a majority. The Single Tax would, therefore, penalize too many.
  9. It has been tried in France, and failed.
  10. Capital and not land is the real exploiter of labor.
  11. There would actually be no improvement of any kind under the Single Tax because the owner, instead of paying the purchase price of the land would merely be paying an equivalent sum in land-value taxation.
  12. There is no such thing as "natural rights" of society to land.
  13. Land rent has constituted less than 10% of the yearly income of our country for the last fifty years. Therefore, even if all the land rent were collected by society, it would, hardly suffice to defray the expense of the community. My summarized refutations follow:


(a) Admitting that it is impossible invariably to separate the value of land from the value of improvements, is this necessity of continuing to tax some improvements any reason why we should continue to tax all improvements?

(b) As a matter of fact, the value of land can always be readily distinguished from the value of improvements. In many of the States the value of the land and the value of the improvements are habitually estimated separately by the assessors, though afterward reunited under the term real estate.


(a) In a rent-collecting state, tenure will never be disturbed, as long as rent is paid.

(b) Lease tenants, and in many cases tenants without leases, have worked improvements upon the land. Far from being discouraged from cultivating the land under the Single Tax, the tenant will fee encouraged to improve the land, knowing of a certainty that the result of his increased efforts will truly belong to him.

(c) It has been found that the owner of the soil, rather than being stimulated to put the land to its best use, more often keeps his land untilled and uncultivated, because of the speculative gains he anticipates without the necessity of any toil on his part. Under common ownership of land, he will be forced to use the land or forego it from the consequent inability to pay rent.


(a) All value may be a social product, but that is not the factor which differentiates between laud and the products of labor. It is title. As man belongs to himself, so does the result of his work belong to him.

Nature as such, or land as we call her in political economy, cannot be owned or possessed. Any one can obtain the products of land, the only price being labor.

Irrespective of how value arises, if man had original tide to a product, he is entitled to its full or subsequent value. Since man has no rightful individual title to tend, no matter how high the value may soar, he can partake of no part thereof.

(b) George indeed claims that man is entitled to what he produces -- that is, to the form that he brings forth from natural materials. But outside the scope of man's products lies land, which is part of the universe. Land is the reservoir, the "substratum," from which he takes the materials to form wealth, which is legitimate property. But for all his labor he cannot lay claim to the uniformed substance of the universe itself. The act of discovering a piece of land has been considered a performance of labor that confers ownership. It is interesting that this "labor" argument should be applied, when in the preceding objection the distinction between land and the products of labor is ridiculed.


(a) Taxing land values is not a confiscation of land since the title would still rest in the landowners' hands. They would be able to keep their land upon payment of the tax.

(b) The fact that the owners paid the purchase price for £he land is no justification for the ownership itself. Land is not created by any man, and cannot, therefore, be owned by any man.

We need not feel too concerned over those who purchased something which cannot belong to any one man -- yet not so unconcerned as to allow the injustice to remain. Under George's system, the purchaser's loss of investment will be more than offset by the new advantages and opportunities that will arise.

Let us not fail to observe that the institution of private ownership of land can be traced to conquest and fraud; and that the great bulk of present-day landholdings was obtained not by purchase, but by inheritance and shady dealings.


(a) The fact that the speculator could lose is no more justification for his gain than the fact that a robber's risk of being captured by the police justifies his looting.

(b) The speculator actually does not do any work since his "labor" consists of withholding what the people could obtain for themselves. In fact, by keeping the land out of use, he deprives the laborer of access to it.


The fact that other monopolies exist is no reason for us to ignore the land monopoly. A prisoner at the bar of justice could with scant logic plead leniency because other prisoners had escaped. As a matter of fact, land monopoly is the basis for all others. If that were destroyed, the rest would fall as a consequence.

An increase in the improvements would not lower wages, but on the contrary, raise them. The employers as well as the employees would benefit, and even looking at It from the critic's point of view, we may, with equal validity say that the workers would then demand higher wages because of the higher profits of their employers. However, wages do not come from capital.

Wages would rise for the following reasons: (a) Vanishing of land speculation would throw the land open to use, thus raising the margin of production, thus raising wages; (b) abolition of taxation of the products of human labor would mean that much more to be distributed as wages; (c) the increased opportunities would result in a greater division of labor, and increased production, which in turn would lead to higher wages. Is it not clear that if employers were to pay employees less than the wages which they could obtain for themselves at the margin, it would pay them to go to work for themselves? With opportunities free, that is what they would do unless they were satisfied with their salaries.


(a) The fact that too many people receive the benefit of the increment would be no answer, any more than the fact that too many thieves would lose if justice were enacted.

(c) In fact, a tiny percentage of the world's population owns the land. The rest are merely tenants, who have to pay for the privilege of living on God's earth.


The Single Tax was never tried in France. Its adoption was proposed by the Physiocrats, but was never adopted. In passing, it may be pointed out that the impot unique of the Physiocrats in many respects differs from George's Single Tax.


What is commonly mistaken for the earnings of "capital" are in reality the "earnings" of monopoly. Thus, public utilities, tariff- and patent-protected industries, and huge landed estates are all erroneously covered under the term "capital." The only times capital actually does make these vast fortunes is when it is backed by the private ownership of land. In such cases, rent is the hidden factor, facile primus, and not to be belittled.

Capital as we mean it is that part of wealth which is devoted to the production of more wealth. It is a partner to labor and not its employer. Capital adds to the sum total of wealth and is therefore entitled to its remuneration.


We must not forget that the purchaser today pays not only the purchase price, but numerous taxes and charities as well. Under the Single Tax, he would pay but his rent, which would be in lieu of all other assessments. It is dear, then, that he would realize a clear gain resulting from the elimination of the multitude of personal property taxes that exist today.


Whether or not we subscribe to the doctrine of natural rights, the fact remains that the basic evil of society can be met only with the Single Tax.

Actually, each man born to this earth, in order to survive, must depend upon land for his subsistence. Unless the critic wishes to support the dangerous assumption that man has no "natural right" to life, he cannot consistently deny the right of all men to the use of the earth.

Our esteemed fellow Georgeist, Lancaster M. Greene, points out that the estimated land value of the United States is between $150,000,000,000 and $300,000,000,000. Rent, at the accepted figure of 5% of the above totals, would then be between $7,500,000,000 and $15,000,000,000.

The total expenditure for the fiscal year 1938-1939 was between $12,000,000,000 and $14,000,000,000. This, of course, includes the numerous bureaus, war and tax agencies, charities and other organizations created by the government m its attempt to alleviate poverty. One can see that the rent would be adequate to cover even this tremendous spending.

The fear that a rapidly growing community might not derive sufficient revenue from the single tax is easily assuaged by the fact that as a community grows with it. Rent itself is an indicator of the rise of a people's needs. The greater the needs, the greater becomes the demand for land -- and the greater becomes the value of such land. Thus rent is always a measuring rod of the people's fluctuating demands.