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Single Tax City: Vancouver’s Worldwide Celebrity, 1911

October 17, 2016

Some decades before Vancouver won acclaim as a model of downtown development,  this relatively small city on the west coast of Canada, had “won worldwide celebrity as an example of the single tax system in civic affairs.”  

Vancouver  was being discussed in cities throughout North America for its radical system of taxation, shifting the burden of raising money from property improvements onto land value.

The idea, based on the economic theory of Henry George,  was that land was a reservoir of wealth that belonged to the people, and increases in its value should be harvested to fund government and lessen the burden on individuals. On the other hand, improvements to private property were an asset for the entire community and ought not be penalized.

The result of weighting tax more to the land value side of the civic property tax equation was to decrease the price of land and foster improvements on land, from which income was derived.

Go Outside and Hear It: Vancouver Leads the Way

henry-george-henry-george-jr-ann-angela-george“I myself come here as one who goes towards the light, for the name of Vancouver has gone abroad as a city upon a hill.” – Henry George Jr

Henry George, Junior, arrived in Vancouver in October 1911,  just as the gavels were being raised in the new Courthouse (present Art Gallery).  The Rattenbury-designed chambers were fronted by a large public square on Georgia Street.

The United States Congressman from New York had come to speak about his father Henry George and to propagate his economic theory, founded on the twin  concepts of a Single-Tax, on land,  and Reciprocity, or free trade.

Here are some excerpts from the local press in October 1911, during the visit of Henry George Jr, extolling  the status Vancouver had attained as a model for other cities.

Henry George, Jr  – (excerpts)

Vancouver Leads – You have led the way, you people of Vancouver. This is the truth. Go outside and hear it.

Sometimes men stay too much at home and they don’t realize what they are doing. But I come from over the line. I study these questions. I know Vancouver’s name is spoken all along the line.

Vancouver is regarded as an advanced city, as a city leading the way.

I am for reciprocity. I am for free trade. I want to get all the good things you have. The only way to all the good things is the way of the single tax.

Your city of Vancouver is a city that stands upon a hill and lights the civic world by the espousal of the single tax, which to me means the way of progress.

Vancouver Mayor LD Taylor – (excerpts)

The people of Vancouver had not realized the significance of their action in exempting the last 25 per cent of improvement values.  

Without further thought many had regarded it as a purely local measure.

But in fact it had created an activity in the discussion of methods of taxation throughout the civilized world as perhaps no other measure adopted by any community had done heretofore.”

There was not a large city or a hamlet in the United States or on this continent that was not discussing Vancouver’s method of taxation and scarcely a day passed that communications were not received at the city hall asking for information along the lines of exempting improvements from taxation.

Every daily paper in the United States had dealt editorially with the city of Vancouver’s system of taxation and a number of magazines had had special articles upon it.

So that by the adoption of the principle of exempting improvements from taxation the city of Vancouver had been set as a beacon upon a hill.

In New York city not only were the papers discussing it, but even great financial men were showing their interest in all articles dealing with Vancouver and its policy of exempting improvements from taxation.

Interviewed during a visit to New York in September 1911, Vancouver Mayor Taylor said:

“My theory of a prosperous community is one in which nothing that a man creates through his own energy alone is taxed, but all those things are taxed which are made by nature for the use of the people as a whole.”

The Mayor was asked:

“Do you believe in a land increment tax?”

He responded:

“Certainly,  a heavy and progressive one, and that ultimately the community should get all the increase of land values which they have created.”

New Westminster First

Vancouver had a good example to follow in neighboring New Westminster.  From an 1889 report on the state of the city of New Westminster’s finances:

“Real estate assessment in the city is ridiculously low, and personal property, houses and improvements are all exempt from municipal levy.”

 

 

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