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It would seem that the new taxes, instead of increasing housing accommodation, have reduced it. It is probable that, unless the single tax agitation keeps on, this initial effect will wear away, if indeed it has not already done so. Increased wages and costs of material are certainly to blame for much of the cessation of building, and even in spite of these obstacles there was a revival in the first half of last year. A change of government would do much to reassure builders, even if the duties were not repealed. But no such change is probable in the near future, and the war upsets all prophecies.2
The final incidence of these duties can never be objectively demonstrated. Economic reasoning leads to the conclusion that the undeveloped land duty will probably cause a good deal of hasty and ill-planned construction, such as we are so familiar with in America; but that in the main it will fall, or has fallen, on the owners at the time being (in 1909), by reducing the capital value of the land. After all it is only equivalent to a general property tax rate of two dollars in the thousand.
The Increment Duty and Reversion Duty, in so far as they fall on unforeseen and unearned increments, will be borne by the recipients of those increments; in so far as the increment is anticipated the tax will also be anticipated. There is also some danger that land developers working on a large scale may be called on to pay increment duty on part of their property, when the scheme as a whole is a failure; but this could be provided against by amending the law.
1 Cf. Board of Trade Labour Gazette for a quarterly report of the value of building plans passed in ninety urban districts.
The present coalition, being for war purposes only, has no effect on the Land Values Duties.
Cf. J. C. Stamp, "The Incidence of Increment Duties," in Economic Journal, June, 1913.
It must not be hastily assumed that the failure, so far, of the new British system of land taxes proves that an increment duty is essentially impracticable. The German local increment taxes are proof to the contrary. The chief reasons which explain the lack of success of Mr. Lloyd George's scheme are the following:
1. The complicated system of land tenure in Great Britain.
2. The fact that hitherto annual value and not capital value had been the basis of taxation, necessitating a valuation de novo.
3. The inclusion of the whole country in the valuation which greatly increased the cost; altho practically no revenue can be expected outside of urban districts.
4. The great expense of administering the tax as a national one instead of locally.
5. Errors and omissions in the law.
The first two do not concern us in the United States. The importance of the third and fourth will vary from state to state, and will be much modified in those regions where the existing valuations are reasonably accurate. With regard to the fifth we should at least have the benefit of British experience.
In my opinion the experiment of an increment tax would be well worth trying, if it could be kept separate from the dangerous and delusive proposals for taxes on site values and the other varieties of Single Tax. A reversion duty might be useful in some parts of the country in order to reach one kind of increment, but we need no more taxation of undeveloped land than we already have under the general property tax. The only valid objection to such a reform would rest on its cost in relation to the income derived from it, a problem which
varies from country to country, and can be finally solved only by experiment. If this objection can be proved untenable, there is no theory of justice in taxation, so far as I am aware, that does not logically require unearned increment to be specially taxed.1
RUFUS S. TUCKER.
1 Besides the references in the preceding notes, mention should be made of an article by J. C. Stamp in Conrad's Jahrbücher for 1912, "Ueber die Reform der Grundsteuer in Grossbritannien." The most detailed official account of the conduct of the valuation will be found in the fifty-fourth report of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue [Cd. 5833 (1911)].
ELY'S PROPERTY AND CONTRACT 1
WE are indebted to Professor Ely for an excellent book. It ought to prove interesting and instructive to economists and lawyers alike; to economists because it contains a careful and accurate account of the leading decisions of the courts with reference to property and contract that bear on economic discussion; to lawyers because legal decisions are treated in a broader way than as mere precedents, and with reference to the philosophical reasons that underlie the decided cases. The book is to be particularly commended to lawyers because most of them are content with the philosophy of Blackstone and attend only to those changes since Blackstone's day that appear in the decisions of the courts, where the fundamental ideas are rather taken for granted than philosophically discussed. If Professor Ely's two volumes were but printed in one, with a larger page, bound in law sheep or buckram, and with the citations of cases at the foot of the page instead of at the end of the chapters, the book might pass for a law book. There is the familiar table of cases at the beginning, and the list is long enough to include the important cases without the common padding that enables publishers to say, as if that were a merit, that there are cited so many thousand more cases than have been cited before. As far as I have been able to test the list, it includes those cases that have really contributed to the development of the subject, and Professor Ely cites them with an accuracy unusual in a layman. In an appendix Professor Orth has made a
1 Property and Contract in their Relation to the Distribution of Wealth, by Richard T. Ely, Ph. D., LL. D., Professor of Political Economy in the University of Wisconsin, 2 vols. The Macmillan Company. New York.
useful collection and analysis of illustrative cases, which he modestly hopes may be helpful to readers who desire to familiarize themselves with the legal aspects and difficulties involved.
Professor Ely's style is clear and perspicuous, and his vocabulary for the most part untechnical. Economists ought to be able to understand his statement of the law, and lawyers his statement of economic theory. A study of the book ought to help bring together two classes who often have the same problems to deal with under different aspects, and often fail to understand each other; the lawyers looking upon the economists as radical, the economists looking upon the lawyers as unprogressive. In fact, as Professor Ely shows, the "socialization of the law" has been brought about chiefly by decisions of the courts; and as this book itself demonstrates, the point of view of the more thoughtful economists is what would be considered, at least in these days, if not conservative, certainly far from radical.
It would be an error, however, to give the impression that the book is essentially either a law book or a text book. It really deals in a philosophical way with the concepts of property and contract in their relation to the distribution of wealth. Professor Ely necessarily draws upon the store of judicial decisions, especially those under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; but he draws largely also on philosophical writers from Lord Bacon down, nay from the author of Deuteronomy to the present time. He has been influenced especially, as he frankly acknowledges, by the Germans, to whom he frequently refers, especially by Conrad, Wagner, and, above all, Knies.
Some of the salient lines of thought are as follows. both production and distribution, man himself is the element of chief significance, since wealth is the product of man's labor, and the product varies with man's efficiency and willingness to work, which may depend largely upon the distribution of the product. Society itself is limited in what it can do in changing the laws of distribution, by the reaction of such changes in distribution on production considered with