When all these glaring defects of a system are presented, one immediately inquires, "Why is it toler-ated?" A number of explanations might be given. The country has been new and prosperous, and the revenue demands have not been an excessive burden on the social income of the country. The increase in land values has been more than rapid enough to offset tax burdens. It has been difficult, moreover, to get concerted action among a number of more or less competing commonwealths. One state does not desire to tax land and capital at full value, because it wants to attract industry to the state, nor do its officials want to drive capital from its borders to other states whose tax inducements are more favorable. Hence state legislators have not always been overzealous to increase assessments to the requirements of law.
Some of the devices which have been used to make the system more effective have also helped to intrench it more firmly in the minds of the individuals. The system of valuing property for taxation at only 50 or 60 per cent of actual value is an example. The psychological effect is that the property owner feels that he is getting off lucky by not having to pay taxes on the entire amount. Then, too, he generally conceals some personal property, and he feels he is somewhat ahead, forgetting for the moment that others are doing the same thing. Many attempts at classification of property have been voted down, no doubt, because the voters in general have feared that the capitalists were back of the measure, or that the single taxers were attempting to introduce taxes on land.
Modern fiscal literature in the United States abounds with discussions of the general property tax, and it seems.
strange to the American student to find nothing concerning it in the literature of other countries. It forms such an important part of our revenue that he has taken it for granted that it is a universal phenomenon. Such, however, is not the case, but it would have been much more nearly the condition two centuries ago. Other countries have tried the method, carried it through its various stages of development, just as we are doing, and have found it wanting. They have long since discarded it as a part of their real tax system, and it is now only a part of their fiscal history.
In England, Italy, Scotland, France, Germany, and other countries, the evolution has been the same. First, taxes were placed upon land, then upon other commodities as they began to appear; this was followed by wholesale evasions and inqualities, with the consequent overthrow of this form of tax as an important part of the fiscal system. The general property tax still plays a minor role in a few countries, but nowhere is it used as in the United States. It may be that some time in the future we will profit by their example, but at present European writers refer to our fiscal system as an antiquated one.
Seligman, Essays in Taxation, chap. ii. Proceedings of the National Tax Association, 1910, pp. 219-313; 1911, pp. 333-421; 1919, pp. 477-496. Reports of State Tax Commissions.