Making ’Em Think
Editor of Reedy's Mirror:
The State of California has a Tax Commission, which, unlike most tax commissions, is disposed to study the question of taxation. It is agitating the subject of taxation by asking the people questions. Here is a list of eleven questions it has just propounded to the people of this State:
Would you favor the exemption from taxation of all factories and manufactured products? (Effort is being made along this line in several States, particularly New Jersey.) Give reasons.
If most of our public revenue continues to come from property taxation, do you believe any property should be exempt from paying in some way, its percentage of such tax? If so, what property would you exempt?
Would you favor the discontinuance of the tax on personal property and the adoption of a reasonable income tax in its place? (This has been recommended by various tax commissions, and has been partially put into operation in Wisconsin, and recently adopted in Massachusetts.) Give reasons.
Do you believe improvements on land (houses, trees, etc.) should be taxed in the same proportions as the land itself? Give reasons.
Do you favor the gradual reduction of taxation upon buildings, trees and vines and the assumption of that tax burden by the land? Give reasons. (This proposition has been discussed in New York and other States, and attempted in Canada, New Zealand, and elsewhere. It is estimated that land in California is assessed at about one-half its full value, and it has been argued that if it were assessed at full value, improvements could be exempted without increasing the tax rate.)
It is argued that land values in cities and other social centers are greatly augmented by the amount of population, and that the community itself, and not any effort on the part of the owner of the land, gives it the high value. If this is true, do you, or do you not, believe that a man who gains this extra wealth from the community, instead of by his own efforts, should pay a greater tax proportionately? Give reasons.
If you state in your answer to the preceding question that you are in favor of a greater tax upon unearned land values, then what percentage of this unearned value do you believe should rightly come bark to the community, instead of being retained by the owner? Give reasons.
Do you believe that land held for speculation should be taxed heavier than the land used for home, agricultural or business purposes? Give reasons.
Do you favor the idea of setting aside certain classes of property to be taxed for certain purposes (for instance, for State or county purposes solely) without regard to the relative burden of tax borne by the different classes of property? Give reasons.
Do you favor classifying property according to its earning ability and taxing it in proportion to that ability? Give reasons.
Do you favor a system of indirect taxation for city and county governments, similar to that now used by the State? Give reasons.
Such questions as these are likely in time to have disturbing results to entrenched privilege. They are calculated to make the people think, and that is always unfortunate for those who profit by popular thoughtlessness. If a man thinks long enough and hard enough he is likely to get back to the beginning of the subject. He is likely to become a convert to the Single Tax.
San Francisco, Cal.
This letter to the editor appeared in Reedy's Mirror, a weekly newspaper published in St. Louis, August 25, 1916.