Georgism, Part Ten: Has It Ever Been Tried?

When I scanned across the internet, looking for examples of Georgism in practice, I saw frequent references to Singapore and occasional references to Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Denmark, and Japan. Often, Georgist principles are referred to as the “Single Tax System,” because all taxes are eliminated in favor of a single tax on unimproved land. One article indicated that Singapore had been able to reduce their tax rate to only 16%, meaning that all governmental services provided by that nation could be provided at that rate applied to the ownership of real estate without resort to income, sales, excise, or other tax burdens. Much of the IRS bureaucracy could be eliminated under a Single Tax System–the only requirement being a reliable method for assessing the value of real estate.

Alaska is sometimes mentioned as an example of a place here in the United States which has adopted Georgism successfully, in part, by taxing oil extraction and holding the proceeds in trust for all taxpayers. Pittsburgh is another place where a variation of Georgism is being applied–where unimproved land is taxed at a higher rate than the improvements on that land.

It’s notable that economic results have been positive wherever the system has been implemented. Inflation is kept low while economic expansion is unleashed. We would all agree, I think that the nations cited in the first paragraph, above, have the reputation for economic performance that outpaces their modest population. However, several of them–notably Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Denmark, and Japan, have veered away from pure Georgism over the years, with mixed results.

Why would a nation that has successfully implemented a Single Tax System with such success every move away from it? For that matter, why is Georgism so rare in today’s world? The answer to both questions should be obvious. Owners of large tracts of unimproved land tend to be wealthy. They don’t like the Single Tax and thus contribute disproportionately toward the election campaigns of candidates who oppose Georgism.

Think of what all of us, including the major landowners, are missing. Imagine life in the United States without any payroll taxes or sales taxes. Small business owners would no longer need to hire special payroll firms to ensure proper withholding for their employees or sales tax collection from consumers.  The confusion and since of unfairness we all feel, knowing that we are all missing or overusing potential deductions or credits, would vanish. In its place would be the certain knowledge that we are equal citizens when it came to taxation. Only our land would be taxed (and only the unimproved part.) By checking the value of assessed land owned by others, we could easily determine the amount of tax paid by those owners–thereby ensuring transparency and fairness for all citizens.

Such a burden lifted! Such an end to tyranny and unfairness we could all celebrate! Such a wonderful new opportunity for all people to feel as though they are truly created equal, being endowed by their Creator with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I can think of no opposing argument to such an obviously superior system.

For an updated (2021) and edited collection of these essays on Georgism the following pamphlet is now available via Amazon and Kindle. Get it HERE.

Georgism: The Only Tax We Need? by [Philip Carlton Williams]