The Present Status of
the Single Tax Movement
Charles H. Ingersoll
[Reprinted from Survey, 31 January 1914]
That the Single Tax is growing apace the world over is obvious even
to casual observers. I have had exceptional facilities for knowing its
status in other parts of the world, and doubt if such constructive
progress has ever been shown as in the past year.
The backbone of the Lloyd-George movement is the Single Tax
principle. The budget fight grew directly out of the inclusion of one
per cent tax on land values and the land valuation clause through
which this was to be effectuated. Lloyd-George has now announced that
he proposes to take further definite steps. In England, although
militancy has driven almost every- thing else from the limelight, the
conviction is firmer and more general that the Liberal government is
definitely committed to progressive land value taxation.
In Germany the movement is organized, and, though taking a form which
does not meet the full approval of American single taxers, i.e., the
tax on increment as now suggested here in New York by the mayor's
commission, is perhaps for this reason a stronger and more popular
movement than that in any other country.
In Spain, at Ronda, in May, there was held a Single Tax conference,
which not only attracted delegates from many countries, but was also
popularly successful, leaving in its wake a national organization and
an organ of the movement.
While in Berlin I received a message from one of the leaders in
Copenhagen that "Denmark would be the first nation of the earth
to write the Single Tax into national law - and that soon." I
found in Denmark greater general intelligence and in some respects
stronger organizations than elsewhere.
In Sweden, also, the movement is well organized, and one of the
indications of its strength is a daily paper in Stockholm under Single
Besides these countries there are nebulous agitations for the Single
Tax in Italy, France (where there is a Single Tax paper) and Belgium.
Australia and New Zealand have long been known as experiment stations
of the movement.- The latter, especially, has produced the most
concrete results up to the recent developments in western Canada.
There is good reason for believing that the new government of China
will adopt definite measures. Dr. Sun Yat Sen is known as an advocate
of the Single Tax.
Notwithstanding these facts, my opinion is that the movement will
hereafter make greater progress on this continent than elsewhere, and
that Canada is at present furthest advanced. Vancouver has taken the
final step in the removal of practically all taxes from industry,
i.e., buildings, personal property, etc., and the most reassuring
thing regarding her experience is the fact that the process has
covered a period of eight or ten years, and four distinct stages,
wherein one-quarter of such taxes were removed at each step, thus
proving that the theory was sound and its working satisfactory.
The history and present condition of Vancouver is the best commentary
on the Single Tax that can be cited. Her experience has resulted in a
general trend in Canadian cities of the Northwest in the same
direction. In these communities the Single Tax will be found in its
early and cruder stages, and with uniformly satisfactory results.
Furthermore, this influence is being definitely felt in neighboring
cities in the American Northwest, and is beginning to create unrest
throughout this country.
The way in which it works is that other cities become envious of the
prosperity of the Single Tax towns, and join the movement in
self-defense. This stage of the evolution would indicate that we are
winning general success.
Some Canadian and northwestern cities are advertising in the United
States to attract industries, boldly proclaiming the Single Tax as a
reason why industries thrive there. The great influx of Americans to
Canada, now amounting to something like 200,000 annually, is doubtless
accelerated by the current reports of Single Tax prosperity.
It is necessary to call attention to the fact that the untaxing of
personal property and improvements is by no means a full measure of
the Single Tax, and we are aware that stopping at this point would not
produce any, and surely not all, benefits of the unlimited Single Tax.
The unlimited tax would not only raise all needed public revenues from
land values and, if it did not absorb all the value of the land, would
proceed to take all remaining land values, so that all speculation in
land would be adequately checked. There is danger that with merely
partial measures land speculation would even be accelerated, so that
the Single Tax must not be judged by any existing exemplifications of
its beginnings, favorable as are the present results.
In the United States there are a dozen healthy but more or less
sporadic political movements directed toward the Single Tax. These are
in Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, California, Oregon,
Washington, Louisiana and other states. Some are being promoted
definitely by the Joseph Fels Fund which has been disbursing from
$50,000 to $100,000 for several years in this work. But to my mind the
strength of the movement is indicated by the fact that it appears in
many respects most healthy where unpromoted.
In California, for example, in 1912 150,000 votes were cast in
certain counties for a tax measure intended to open the way to the
Single Tax, and this in a movement but a few months old. Everett,
Wash., carried a complete abolition of taxes except on land by a
two-thirds vote. Forty per cent of the votes in St. Louis and Kansas
City were cast for Single Tax measures, and one-third of the voters in
the three largest counties in Oregon voted Single Tax. Altogether,
nearly 400,000 voters in Oregon, Missouri, California and Wisconsin
declared for Single Tax.
Seattle elected a Single Tax mayor, and a Single Tax measure was
defeated by only a small majority. Another campaign is under way.
Herbert S. Bigelow, one of the oldest and most prominent single
taxers in the country planned and carried through the new Ohio
constitution, although a specific inhibition of the Single Tax was
made a part of it. This "victory" Bigelow did not
strenuously contest. A similar inhibition is now being sought by the
frightened interests of Oregon and Missouri. These, though negative,
are strong evidences of the imminence of the Single Tax, as in each of
these three states the initiative and referendum, promoted always by
Single Taxers, has been made a part of the fundamental law. Through
these measures inhibitions are as easily removed as affirmative laws
The 1913 elections contributed heavily to publicity, and in some
cases more substantially. In Pueblo a contested campaign was conducted
for 50 per cent exemption of improvements the first year, and 99 per
cent thereafter; carried 2,711 to 2,171 against; Commissioner Burton,
Single Taxer, re-elected though bitterly opposed ; so general was
interest, in the state, that movements are already under way in other
cities there. In Houston, Tex., J. J. Pastoriza was re-elected, and
his program of exempting improvements approved by the voters after
several years of practical experience.
In New York, Benjamin C. Marsh and his organizations for "halving
taxes on improvements" were active factors in the election of
Mayor Mitchel and twenty-seven assemblymen, pledged to his
proposition. That the mayor's pledge was not perfunctory may be
concluded from the fact that he has retained J. J. Murphy and Lawson
Purdy in, and appointed Raymond V. Ingersoll to, his cabinet. All
these men are Single Taxers. John J. Hopper was elected register.
In New Jersey a spectacular Single Tax campaign was waged by George
L. Record, Edmund B. Osborne and others, to nominate the latter as
governor, on a plank written in the Progressive platform at the
convention. This failed, but Colby ran third on the issue, which was
widely exploited all over the state for months. Charles O'Connor
Hennessey, single taxer, (a brother of John A. Hennessey, Tammany's
Nemesis), was elected to the Senate, and R Yancey Cohen, defeated for
Massachusetts had a campaign similar to New Jerse3r's with Single Tax
a leading issue with the Progressives, who came in second.
Controversies between the candidates, on this issue, obtained national
I might mention that there are at least thirty single taxers in
Congress, and a half-dozen governors definitely "under suspicion."
The fact is that almost all statesmen in the country are under similar
suspicion, and Single Tax sentiment unquestionably pervades many
State Single Tax leagues have been organized in several states in the
last year. One interesting collateral fact is the extent of the
agitation for better methods of appraisal ; besides the general
adoption of separate valuation of real estate and improvements and of
various improved methods of real -estate appraisal, such as that of
President Purdy, of New York. The Manufacturers Appraisal Company of
Cleveland is steadily installing the Somers system in large cities
throughout the country. Secretary Lane's recent messages, especially
concerning water powers and Alaska, are full of Single Tax doctrine.
The contest at the annual meeting of the National Conservation
Association was mainly on Single Tax principles, which President
Pinchot upheld successfully.
In conclusion, let me cite as further secondary evidences of progress
- equally as significant as the numerous events cited - the fact that
the three great national illustrated weeklies, the Saturday Evening
Post, Collier's and Harper's, are all writing Single Tax editorials.
The Outlook has given an extensive review of the movement. More
significant perhaps, is a series of articles in the Real Estate
Magazine, the first of which is a veritable call to arms in defense of
vested rights - in fact, acknowledging that the Single Tax is on the
way and may not be blocked without arousing those whose property
values would suffer by it. The Atlantic Monthly is publishing a series
of debates on this subject between F. W. Garrison, affirmative, and A.
S. Johnson, negative. The press generally is giving generously of
space to this subject. An exhibit of Single Tax literature is being
prepared for Columbia University by Professor Johnston, the librarian.
Altogether, single taxers are inclined to join the Real Estate
Magazine in the admission that the Single Tax cannot be stopped, even
by owners of speculative real estate.