single tax

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SINGLE TAX. The single tax is the name of a levy proposed by Henry George in his book Progress and Poverty, published in 1879. In place of all other taxes, George advocated a single tax that would appropriate for government use all rent on land. His proposal was intended as much more than a mere fiscal device; it was set forth as a vehicle for social reform.

On the ground that land was a gift of nature, not a product of human effort, George condemned private ownership of land, which he considered the cause of economic and social ills. Land values, he held, were attributable to social or community factors. The state, therefore, and not the individual, should be the beneficiary of these values and any increases therein. The single tax, George wrote, would do no less than abolish poverty, elevate morals, and "carry civilization to yet nobler heights." George was undoubtedly influenced by his years in California, where he had observed the speculation in land and the rapid rise in land values following the gold rush of 1849. He was not content merely to expound his views in writing. He made his single-tax plan the core of his unsuccessful campaigns for mayor of New York City in 1886 and 1897.

The single-tax program had but limited acceptance in the United States despite vigorous attempts to promote it through political campaigns, legislative action, and general publicity. The single-tax cause was aided by large financial contributions from the philanthropist Joseph Fels. In California in the early twentieth century, the single-tax plan came before the voters on seven occasions; each time it was rejected. Agitation for the single tax, or for a partial application of it, was also carried on in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas.


Barker, Charles A. Henry George. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955.

George, Henry. Progress and Poverty. New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1979.

Marvel M.Stockwell/a. r.

See alsoLand Speculation ; Radicals and Radicalism ; Taxation .

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single tax, any levy that serves as the government's only source of revenue. Generally, however, it is understood to mean a tax derived from economic rent and used as the sole source of public receipts. As such, it is based on the doctrine that land and the natural resources are the source of all wealth, and it corresponds substantially to the impôt unique of the 18th-century physiocrats. Basic to the theory is the belief that the land and its wealth belong to all. The most effective advocate of the single tax was Henry George, who held that economic rent tends to enrich the owner at the expense of the community and is thus the cause of poverty; he believed that by appropriating all (or nearly all) economic rent governments could wipe out social distress and even acquire a surplus without recourse to any other taxes. George's theories have had some influence on land taxation in Britain, several of the former dominions, the W United States, and several European nations.

See H. George, Progress and Poverty (1879).