Wanted a Philosophy?
[Reprinted from the Henry George Fellowship News,
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
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.