The Single Tax and Socialism
Sir,—In various articles which appear in the SOCIALIST STANDARD stress is laid on what the S.P.G.B. declaim a fact, that the working class can expect nothing under capitalism, only their upkeep, i.e., food, clothes and shelter.
It is also claimed by the S.P.G.B. that the standard of living of the working class tends to the downward grade.
This statement is true, but it does not follow that the standard of living cannot be raised instead of sinking. I claim that the single tax will raise the toilers’ living—by taxing the owners of land and compelling them to pay economic rent for land in use or not in use. This would solve the unemployed question, because the land will be open for anyone desirous of using it on conditions of paying the economic rent. The toilers working in factories, etc., could increase their wages, because there would be no competition for jobs. A. Maclaren, M.P. for Burslem, is regarded an expert on the land question, and I have heard him challenge all opposition, either in set debate or by questions, but S.P.G.B.ers have been conspicuous by their absence or silence.
The S.P.G.B. are flippant in abuse of Labour M.P.s and ought to be prepared to defend their position in debate.
Henry George spoke of Socialism as a noble ideal, which was sure to be realised.
I have no desire to write a lengthy letter, because space is needed for your own writers, but perhaps you will be kind enough to print my letter and also your reply.
Thanking you in anticipation,
The position of the working class in relation to taxes—single or compound—has been dealt with on numerous occasions in the pages of the SOCIALIST STANDARD, but as our correspondent does not appear to have seen these articles, we may deal with the point again.
“Single Taxer” admits that our statements that the workers only receive, on the average, sufficient for maintenance and reproducton, with the standard of living tending to fall, is correct. But we need to know why this is so to meet “Single Taxer’s” claims.
The various things necessary for producing wealth—land, factories, machines, railways, etc.—are owned by one class in society—the capitalist class. The working class only possess their power to labour. Before they can apply this labour-power to either the land or the instruments of production, they must obtain permission from the capitalist class to do so. The latter class only give this permission when they calculate that they can sell the things .produced at a profit. The fact that individual calculations may sometimes be erroneous does not affect the main point. Moreover, the capitalists are not concerned whether the articles are used for necessities, comforts, or even vices. If they can be sold at a profit the uses to which they can be put does not matter.
Another important point to bear in mind is that when the articles are produced they belong to the capitalists—not to the workers. Thus the workers are without any means of living—even after working—until a share of what they have produced is handed back to them in the form of wages. The share left to the capitalists, after paying wages and replacing the value consumed in production, is called surplus-value. Out of this surplus-value various charges such as advertising, rates, taxes, etc., are paid. “Single Taxer’s” theory is that by placing the whole burden of taxes upon the landowner the unemployed problem would be solved, “because the land will be open for anyone desirous of using it on conditions of paying the economic rent.”
The first point to be settled here is what does “Single Taxer” mean by “economic rent”? He does not say. Various definitions are given by different writers, but the one in general use is “the price paid for the use of land apart from any buildings or structures upon it.” How would this rent be fixed? Again, “Single Taxer” does not tell us. Generally single tax theorists claim that it will be settled by competition among those desiring the land. It is easy to see that this is how the bulk of such rent is decided to-day. For instance, a wealthy oil firm bought some land in the City of London a year or two ago upon which they built their offices. Now this land was “open for anyone desirous of using it on conditions of paying the economic rent,” and it may be asked why some labourer, suffering from lack of house room, did not take up this land and use it for himself. The answer would be “he could not pay the economic rent.” It thus is quite evident that the only people who could hire the land under the single tax scheme would be the same as those who hire it to-day— namely, those wealthy enough to pay for it. This would leave the working class exactly where they are now—unemployment and all.
“Single Taxer” may argue that the position would be different because the “economic rent” would be taken by the Government for the purposes of taxation, thus relieving industry of a burden it bears to-day. This may be granted, and from this point of view, the single tax is the ideal form of taxation for the capitalist as it would be placing the tax where it would be the least trouble to him. But “Single Taxer” cannot show how this would alter the position of the workers. They would still remain slaves to the capitalists and still receive, on the average, a maintenance wage. How the capitalists have to divide up the surplus value they have robbed from the workers is of little concern to the latter. Their interest and business is to abolish the robbery by taking control of political power for that purpose.
(Socialist Standard February 1927)