The Single Tax

By Stewart Browne. (1914)

A Single Tax propaganda is now being preached in New York City and State, and the statements of the benefits to accrue are most alluring. These benefits are: Increased work, increased wages, reduced cost of living, reduced rents, abolition of poverty, and a panacea for all the ills that flesh and civilization are heir to.

This propaganda calls for thorough and logical investigation from every standpoint; and I shall endeavor to give such in this article, from the standpoint that the Single Tax cannot be shifted from the land owner to the tenant and consumer.

The leader of this Single Tax crusade is a Mr. Fels of Philadelphia, who has made a large fortune in the “soap business.” He is spending fully $100,000 a year for literature, meetings, and sending paid speakers through this State preaching the Single Tax Gospel, and he is aided by paid assistants, who in turn, are ably seconded by a number of most charming and estimable gentlemen in their respective business vocations, club and home life.


Nothing in the world has value in and of itself, but only the potentialities of value. Land in this respect is exactly the same as water, oil, coal, iron and other ores, timber, the lower animal kingdom, and even man; they are all inert masses produced alike by force.

The land owner in cities and towns bought his land and he prepares it by excavation, leveling, or blasting, and buys building material and erects a building on said land. All this he does from the proceeds of the savings of his daily labor and by daily labor, and with or without the assistance of others whom he pays out of the proceeds of the savings of his daily labor. The building is now ready for occupancy, but it has no value, but only the potentialities of value, until the community buys it or rents it, when value emerges.

The farmer bought his land and prepares it and sows it for crops; the rain and the sun ripen such crops and he gathers them in, but the crops, when gathered, have only potentialities of value, and value only emerges when the community buys them. The farmer did all the above either with the proceeds of the savings of his daily labor or by daily labor.

The manufacturer either buys or rents a factory with its land, or buys the land and erects a building, and buys and erects the machinery; buys raw material and pays employees to work it up into finished articles, but none of these articles have value until they are purchased by the community. All that he bought, including his employees’ daily labor, he paid for out of the proceeds of the savings of his daily labor.

The merchant either buys or rents the store in which he places the goods that he buys and with or without the aid of others sells them to the community, but until sold such goods have no value. The merchant paid for everything he bought and the employees he paid, etc., out of the proceeds of the savings of his daily labor.

And so on, with railroads, steamships, hotels, theatres, and all kinds of human activities in all civilized communities.

The activities of the urban land owner, the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, etc., are all alike, none more, none less, irrespective of their several occupations.

The value, therefore, of everything is fixed solely by the community in its impelling desire to satisfy the primitive cravings of its stomach, to cover its body, to tickle its mental exhilarations and satisfy its senses; all these acts from the millionaire to the tramp are non-intelligent. In satisfying all these it is not the intention to increase the value of the products of city or town realty, farm land, factories or stores, etc. The very reverse is true.

Remember, that fully one-half of man’s labor, from the dawn of history till now, had, and has, and will continue to have, no value.

When, therefore, value is mentioned in this article it means the price that is paid for the products of land, land and buildings, factories, etc. Exchange value and not the cost of production is the only value known to man; therefore everything sold has value to the seller when sold, but only the potentialities of value to the buyer.

Land “Increment” and Industrial or Financial “Good Will”

With pressure of increasing population and consequent increasing demand for all things that man thinks he can’t do without, comes annual increasing realty values which is improperly called “unearned increment,” unless it means increment because not “cashed in”; increasing demand for banking credit, for food stuffs, and for all manufactured products, not omitting automobiles, produces “good will,” which is exactly the same thing as realty so-called “unearned increment”; the only difference being that the annual net income from Manhattan realty, including the so-called “unearned increment,” except in a few cases, is not over 8 per cent. per annum on the owned (excluding borrowed) capital invested; while the annual net income in manufacturing and merchandising runs all the way from 20 per cent. to 100 per cent. on the owned (excluding borrowed) capital invested, depending upon the number of times in each year the stock can be “turned over.” The net profit in banking is from 10 per cent. upwards on capital.

Had “increment value” not belonged to the individual, this country would yet be in its infancy. It is the speculative profit that has produced our present day civilization. Primitive man worked to feed his stomach; civilized man works to feed his bank account.

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