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THE UTILITARIAN PRINCIPLES OF TAXATION AND
THEIR RELATION TO ALTRUISM.*
By R. S. GUERNSEY, of the New York Bar.
TAXATION AND THE TENEMENT HOUSE PROBLEM. The tenement house system, that now prevails in large cities to such an extent as to thoroughly awaken humanitarians and alarm legislators, has grown up during the last half century. The demand for cheap rents is one of the chief causes of this system; convenient distance to centres of work and business, thus saving the time and expense of travel to the toilers, is another cause. We have already seen to what extent local assessments and taxation in cities affect the price of rents, which capitalists and investors must obtain or they will seek other investments than those that might judiciously, and would, be placed in improvements and buildings on and about real estate—and thus increase the supply of that necessity in cities.
The time and expense and annoyance of travel, and low rent as well as many other local conveniences, are constant and potent inducements to encourage crowding in tenement houses. The factory by day and the tenement by night is all the life of the toiler and his family, and is now the prospect of millions of people. They are divorced from the soil. They must live and work in rooms where the sun never enters. The air they breathe must reach them through dark passages and foul courts. Congestion of population has become such an evil that expansion has become mandatory, to ensure the physical and moral development of mankind that is due to the helpless and unfortunate. This applies to the congestion in business that is prevalent through commercial concentration, in dwelling places as well as in shops and factories.
Besides the better opportunities for obtaining employment in cities by the vast majority of any population, there are other facilities offered-by the public protection of water, food, schools, police, parks, health, sanitation, law and order and security of individual rights and comforts that extend to the weakest and most lowly and provide opportunities for individual improvement for all conditions.
*Continued from Vol. xlvii, p. 301.
Among all these facilities for happiness the pre-eminence of New York City is such that no place or locality can successfully compete with anything found there except in the price of rents, which for all buildings are relatively excessive, and can be, and should be, made lower for those who must now dwell in tenement houses, or who choose to have comfortable homes convenient to their business.
It was under such conditions and circumstances that our cities were rapidly built up in the last quarter of the 19th century. The dawning of the 20th century shows us that much more is needed and demanded by this utilitarian age that is tempered by the enhanced feeling of the intelligent acknowledgment of the brotherhood of men, and need of their protection by appropriate legislation.
Since 1850 the population of the cities of the United States has increased tenfold, while the rural populations that live outside of towns and villages of between one thousand and four thousand inhabitants (being now five million) have only increased twofold, as shown by the census of 1900, there being about forty-three millions engaged in agriculture.
Tenement house regulation, by laws requiring the modes of healthful and safe building, and better sanitary surroundings in shops and factories, are the results that have been achieved from time to time. It now devolves upon us to provide remedies for similar conditions and to prevent the increase of similar evils in the future. How is this to be best done? Rapid transit is trying to help, but it is not the best way, nor the only one. It is only temporary. We must encourage the growth of more business and industrial centres and the building up of more homes that are demanded by the most populous and industrial classes of our city, state and nation.
We may have nuclei of dwelling places in the suburbs already, but we need more of them. The millions of human beings that are now crowded into tenement houses without proper light and air can be induced to take up better quarters. Rapid transit is not sufficient to do all this. The inducements must be low rent and conveniences to enable the family to retain as much of their wages for personal needs and gratifications as the tenement and flat house accommodations now allow. The East Side tenement house occupants do not now have to pay carfare to get to their places of work. That expense saved enables them to better provide for themselves and their families out of their wages. The locations of the factory and place of work are largely governed by their accessibility
to those persons who can be obtained at the least rate of wages to do the work. Thus the locations of the factory and workshop and the dwellings of operatives are largely dependent upon each other, and each has an influence that favors the growth of the other; hence they cause congested centres of population and business. Nearly all industrial trades can be as conveniently carried on in less crowded parts of the city as where they now are. There is much work done in the most crowded portion of New York City, below Fourteenth Street, that can be done as well or better elsewhere—in the suburbs. The vast array of young men and young women employed as accountants and stenographers and the like in some of the offices and counting rooms down-town could do the work elsewhere, nearer comfortable homes, without the time and expense of travel, and be in better light and air, with more healthful and attractive accommodations, and less expense to themselves and to their employers, than now. Rapid transit seems to encourage a continuance of these conditions of business centres.
Business and industrial centres will necessarily change the base of their supplies. This includes homes for employes and their families; this, in turn, implies the supply of the needs of families, and this includes all the wants that human nature demands. This may, and will undoubtedly, draw away some things that have already grown up in present localities and prevent further growth in those directions. This change of the base of demand and supply will help solve the problem of congested centres of population in cities, which rapid transit is now looked to to relieve. It will still be needed for those who may choose to have residences in or outside the suburbs and who can conveniently afford the time and expense of travel daily, as well for their families in their occasional visits to the large retail shops and stores that will always be sought for in cities, where some kinds of purchases must be made.
In localities where the means of transportation are susceptible of competition, the rates of fare and other accommodations and growth of facilities will be largely governed by the public demand. This gives an advantage over localities where the means of travel is furnished by a monopoly in streets, as is the case in cities.
The land in our boroughs is now practically nearer our business centres than was Fourteenth Street when we could only rely on horse stages for transportation, and then to only a small section of them. The present modes of transportation and means of communication by telegraph, telephone and express service are such as to render our suburbs nearer to the great centres of business than
Bleecker Street was one hundred years ago. To telephone is easier than it was then to communicate with an adjoining room. With all these modern aids to business, we need and can have other business centres, as well as other dwelling places. This is now being more rapidly recognized by the growth of suburban places. We can see that this extends to New Jersey and Connecticut as well as to nearby places of easy access within New York State..
The city of New York is now in a condition to retain this overflow and direct it to the new sections within its city limits. Rapid transit within the city's bounds will help and encourage the location of factories and shops; and the homes of toilers will follow them is other conveniences are there. Factories and shops now locate in or near cities because it is easier to obtain there labor such as they may desire. Mill and factory sites are not alone selected because of availability of water-power; but more for the convenience of transportation of material than for anything else. This material may be human labor.
The factory laws and the labor laws, and the tenement nouse and building and school laws, are now in a favorable condition, and encourage, and almost demand, the building up of sparsely populated portions of our boroughs; not only for dwelling places, but for new business centres, such as residential people require, without the time and expense of travel.
New York City was once the leading city in manufactures. It is a significant, prominent fact that during the past thirty years the manufacturing industries of New York City have declined in greater proportion than has its commerce. They can be restored. It is opportune, now that we have the Greater New York City in full operation and a home rule amounting to almost independent government; with all the water front facilities and railroads, internal and terminal, at its command; with its vast territory for cheap and comfortable homes; with the ready means of obtaining raw materials from the markets, at home and abroad; and with the means and facilities for the distribution of manufactured products that the home and foreign markets may demand, at a price that would cause us to fear no competition.
If the right public policy is pursued, they can be carried on with greater profit and economy and with more conveniences than in any other locality; and a great civic improvement for the toiler, as well as an economic one for the capitalist, will prevail. It is not necessary to construct many bridges, tunnels and railroads, and maintain them at the public expense, to induce the building up of healthful homes and suitable residences within the borders of our city. The construction of streets and sewers in anticipation of future growth is of great importance, being necessary to the establishment of other business centres, as well as to the location of dwellings.
Instead of spending money to extend, open and widen old streets in the old part of the city, would it not be better for the community to have the same amount applied toward the expense of opening and improving streets in the suburbs? We have before seen how state and county aid is devoted to the construction of good roads. Why should not city aid help pay the expense of opening, extending and improving streets that are now only roads in the suburbs, but which will soon be populous streets ?
The construction of docks and piers would also influence the location of some kinds of factories and shops. They are constructed at the public expense, because they belong to the city and earn revenue for the use of the city; they are not to be considered in connection with the cost of the construction of streets and sewers.
Would it not be better to construct streets and sewers in part at the public expense and reduce the annual taxes on real estate by obtaining revenue from other sources, rather than pursue the antiquated system of having all local improvements made at the expense of the private owners and obtaining revenue for public purposes by annual taxation of real estate?
The uses of streets in cities are for many purposes—for buildings and for convenient access to them. But the multitude of structures and other matters require that the streets shall be used for many public purposes that are not confined to local and abutting owners or tenants, as we have before seen.
In the encouragement of home building, the question of local assessments and taxation on local improvements is of more importance than anything else. We have already seen the extent of this cost, which is borne by the private owner, and its effect on the price of rent. The reduction of rent, then, should be sought for, as we have before seen, in the reduction of taxes and assessments on land and the structures upon it.
The building laws are favorable for the erection of dwellings that do not come under the restrictive provisions relating to tenement houses, and they can be supplied to tenants, with a good margin as an investment to capitalists, where the land values permit, at as low rent as tenement houses. The fear of future