This year’s conference of the Council of Georgist Organizations “celebrates” the 100th anniversary of two important landmarks: Pittsburgh and Scranton becoming the first two cities in the United States to adopt a land value tax (which we do indeed celebrate) and the Wilson Administration’s implementation of the Federal Income Tax (mumble grumble).
Alex Wagner Lough is doing her doctoral dissertation on the Georgist movement in the progressive era, and will speak on the participation of Georgists in adopting the income tax and on the divisions within the Georgist movement over that issue. She suggests that passage of the income tax marks the decline of the Georgist movement, and might have caused it.
George himself vehemently opposed income tax, agreeing with David Ricardo that a revenue tax, even on rental income, would be passed on to the tenants. In Progress and Poverty, George wrote,
As to the truths that are involved in socialistic ideas I shall have something to say hereafter; but it is evident that whatever savors of regulation and restriction is in itself bad, and should not be resorted to if any other mode of accomplishing the same end presents itself. For instance, to take one of the simplest and mildest of the class of measures I refer to — a graduated tax on incomes. The object at which it aims, the reduction or prevention of immense concentrations of wealth, is good; but this means involves the employment of a large number of officials clothed with inquisitorial powers; temptations to bribery, and perjury, and all other means of evasion, which beget a demoralization of opinion, and put a premium upon unscrupulousness and a tax upon conscience; and, finally, just in proportion as the tax accomplishes its effect, a lessening in the incentive to the accumulation of wealth, which is one of the strong forces of industrial progress. (Progress and Poverty, Book VI, Chapter 1, Sec. V.)
However, Wilson’s administration, awash with Georgist leaders, proposed the 1913 income tax, and Congressman Henry George, Jr. cosponsored the legislation. Which Georgists supported the income tax, which opposed it, and the arguments and predictions they made, will be the topic of a special presentation at this year’s conference, August 6 – 10, at the Airport Holiday Inn, Coraopolis, Pennsylvania (a Pittsburgh suburb). We are excited to explore this very important but long-ignored aspect of the history of the Georgist movement.
We will also celebrate and detail the great successes of the Georgist movement in Pittsburgh and other Pennsylvania cities, and will tell you more about that in an upcoming edition of The Georgist News.
Dan Sullivan, President
Council of Georgist Organizations