Labor and the Single Tax

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Louis F. Post on Labor and the Single Tax

LOUIS F. POST was one of the most prominent figures in the US during the Progressive Era. He was an advisor for Henry George’s 1886 campaign for Mayor of New York, edited George’s New York newspaper The Standard, and went on to publish the popular Chicago Single Tax magazine, The Public. Post was a prominent figure in the labor movement, and served as Assistant Secretary of Labor in the administration of Woodrow Wilson. His books include The Prophet of San Francisco and Ethics of Democracy. In his book The Taxation of Land Values, he answered the following “frequently-asked questions” about the Georgist Remedy’s implications for labor:

What good would the Single Tax do to the poor? and how?

Constantly keeping the demand for labor above the supply of labor, it would enable them to abolish their poverty by their industry.

Hasn’t every man who needs it a right to be employed by the government?

No. But he has a right to have government secure him in the enjoyment of his equal right to the opportunities for employment that nature and social growth supply. If government secured him in that respect, and he could not get work, it would be because (1) he did not offer the kind of service that people wanted; or (2) he was incapable. His remedy, if he did not offer the kind of service that people wanted, would be either to make people see that they were mistaken or to go to work at something else; if he was incapable, his remedy would be to make himself capable. In no case would he have a right to government interference in his behalf, either through schemes to make work, or by bounties, or tariffs, or in any other special way.

Would working people whose savings are in savings banks or insurance companies which own land or have mortgages upon land, lose by the shrinkage in land values?

Not if the companies were managed intelligently. Well managed companies would shift their investments as they observed the persistent decline of land values. They would do it even as soon as conditions appeared that would naturally cause land values to shrink. But working people could well afford to give up all their present savings for the permanent employment and high wages that the Single Tax would bring about. It is not thrifty working people but rich idle people who would lose by the Single Tax.

If taxes have to be paid by labor, what difference does it make to laborers whether they are levied in proportion to land values, or otherwise?

When taxes are levied upon earners in proportion to earnings, they take what the earners would otherwise keep; but when they are levied upon land-owners in proportion to land values, they take what the earners must in any event lose.

Under the Single Tax could employers cut wages to the starvation point?

No. Under the Single Tax, employers would be constantly bidding for workmen, instead of workmen constantly bidding for employers as is the case now. It is the “oversupply” of labor that makes starvation wages possible, and the Single Tax would abolish that; not by reducing the supply of labor, the Malthusian idea, but by allowing effective demand for labor to freely increase.

What effect would the Single Tax have on immigration? Would it cause an influx of foreigners from different nations?

If adopted in one country of great natural opportunities, and not in others, its tendency would not only be to cause an influx of foreigners, but also to make their coming highly desirable. Our own experience in the United States, when we had an abundance of free land and were begging the populations of the world to come to us, offers a faint suggestion of what might be expected.

Will not the employer be able under the Single Tax to undersell the laborer to sell goods for less than cost, at least temporarily and thereby force him to accept the employer’s terms?

With employers continually hunting for men to help them fill their orders, and bidding against each other to get men, as would be the case under the Single Tax, such a contingency would be in the highest degree improbable. It is practically impossible. Nothing short of a trust, an absolutely perfect trust, of all employers the world over could cause it. Even then, plenty of very useful land of all kinds being free and labor products being exempt from taxation, all persons outside the trust could resort co-operatively to the land, and the trust would be obliged to take them in as the alternative of falling to pieces under their competition.

Read Post’s answers many other questions here: