CHAPTER XIV
TAXES ON THE PUBLIC VALUE OF LAND

§ 1. IT has become apparent in the course of our study that, when a tax is assessed on anybody by reference to the value of some object in his possession of such a sort that that value cannot be altered by any action on his part, the tax, in its announcement aspect, works like a poll-tax and is, in that aspect, an ideal tax from the standpoint of least aggregate sacrifice. In order that it may possess this quality it is not necessary that the object of assessment should be inalienable by the present owner. He may be free to sell it--of course at a price diminished by the discounted value of the tax-- and the tax will remain, in its announcement aspect, wholly innocuous. The essential point is that the object of assessment is such that its value, and, therefore, the amount of the impost to be collected, cannot be altered by anything that the owner, whoever he may be, decides to do.

§ 2. Now, if we select any piece of durable property, determine its value in 1926, and decree that henceforward its owner shall pay a tax based on that value, we have an object of assessment of the type contemplated above. There is, however, a certain appearance of absurdity in basing taxes on historical values of this kind. It is easy to imagine how anomalous taxes so based would seem when they had continued for 100 years. In practice, if any value is to be taken as an object of assessment for taxation, it must be current, or, at all events, very recent value. The values of all ordinary sorts of property are, however, liable to be altered by work or investment on the part of the owners or occupiers. Taxes assessed upon them will, therefore, vary

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