The land tax is one of the oldest contributions. It has three forms : (1) it may be based upon each unit of area, sometimes with an attempt to classify the different units in fertility; (2) it may be based upon the estimated value of the land or upon an estimated average annual yield or surplus;

1 Seligman, Essays, pp. 23-61.

(3) it may be based upon the actual yearly yield, and be as it were a share in the product. The tax was common in the latter part of the middle ages as a recognition of the monarch's right of proprietorship in the soil. A good example of this, among many others, is afforded by the so-called quit-rents in the American colonies.1 In their first form these payments are not strictly taxes. They are acknowledgments of the people's tenure. But they frequently grow into taxes. In France, as we have seen, the taille developed from feudal dues. The impôt foncier now yields 255,000,000 francs. In England the old land tax has been converted into a redeemable rent charge, but the revenue from land is still taxed in the general income tax and yields £1,500,000 annually. Local taxation falls largely on land. In Prussia the land tax was in 1895 transferred entirely to the local bodies.

Economic rent as the surplus of revenues from land, after all expenses have been deducted, has always been regarded as a legitimate object of taxation. It has been strongly argued that this tax cannot be shifted. But as the land tax is not always confined to rent-bearing land, being generally imposed upon all land, even the poorest in cultivation, and as modern economic theory does not regard rent as an inevitable surplus, this old argument needs thorough revision. (See Chapter X.)

1 See Ripley, and Wood.

It is in the assessment of this tax that the cadastre has been most widely used. The principles upon which the best cadastres have been built are the following: (1) A careful measurement of the land is made and recorded. In the older ones the land is entered in rough historical units: the "yoke," the "hide," the "seed." Sometimes the cadastre is intended to serve other purposes, as that of a record of titles. In any case the names of the owners or occupiers are entered with each piece. (2) A record is made of the yield of each unit of area and from that is estimated either the gross revenue or the net revenue, — more frequently the latter. As a rule the cadastral revenue is less than the actual net revenue. Another method is that of recording the market value.

The cadastre when finished is subject to more or less frequent revision. A partial revision which involves the recording of changes of title, etc., is generally made currently. An entire revision is only undertaken after periods of considerable length. The making of a complete cadastre is a matter of considerable expense and takes no little time. In many cases more than the mere land is recorded, buildings and other improvements being frequently entered in the same cadastre.

It is generally urged in justification of the retention of the land tax even in countries where there are other taxes that fall upon the revenue from land, that the income accruing from land is constantly increasing in every growing community, and that the expenditure of the government accrues largely to the benefit of the land-holders, and appears in the form of an increased value or rental. The same reasons are urged in support of a higher rate for the land tax.

On the basis of a cadastre the land tax is generally apportioned ; less frequently it is proportioned. In general the tax lends itself better than most others to the apportionment method. With a fixed valuation as a basis which varies comparatively little from year to year, it seems perfectly natural and easiest to apportion the amount that it is desired to raise, among the different pieces or units.