Wanted a Philosophy?

Henry Tideman

[Reprinted from the Henry George Fellowship News, August, 1936]

Here we have two substantives; philosophy and taxation. Philosophy, we are told, is the cultivation of wisdom, valuable in itself. Taxation is a forced contribution toward the public expense, the justification being that the public establishment confers benefits, and having nothing of its own, must seek financial support.

Why not such a philosophy? A philosophy must have a basis in imagination or assumption or fact. Certainly all three will be woven into the fabric. It should develop a complete workable consistent theory. It must relate to life, and certainly must take into consideration the proper purposes of the public establishment, the benefits it confers and the distribution among men of those benefits.

It must take into consideration whether men receive the benefits directly and the degree of probability that the benefits are normally to be bought or rented from direct beneficiaries. There also is the matter of the incidence of taxation which will have a powerful bearing upon whether or not the benefits of government are nullified, and to what extent nullified, by the tax system arrived at by the philosophy.

The problem of a thief is to find someone who has something and then to take it from him. To what extent must the philosophy of taxation be guided by impulses similar to his?

Who are the common beneficiaries of government? Landholders, subsidy receivers, patentees, public utility mongers and tariff beneficiaries. Which are the largest and most constant beneficiaries? Which of these, in the long run, will levy the largest toll, not only on the other beneficiaries, but upon those who, to live, must find places to live and work?

Tax the tariff beneficiaries? It is more simple to abolish the tax whereby they benefit.

Tax the public utility mongers? They are public agents, and as such confer benefits when functioning properly. Surely the public should hot tax its agents.

Tax patent beneficiaries? Then why give them the benefits? It would be more easy to withhold the gift.

Tax the receivers of subsidies? Levy a tax, give the fund away and take it back again?

Landholders are direct beneficiaries by title and by incidence. They have their trials and tribulations, too, but that is because while we encourage them to speculate and borrow on the security of inflated land values, we destroy by taxation the rent paying ability of the industries that otherwise would furnish them with all the funds they might need for taxes.

Wanted: A philosophy, of Taxation; If that be so, we could begin by realizing that there are only two sources of revenue either public or private; land and labor. Here is a fact for the philosopher.