Four Minute Essays, Volume 4 ©1919
What Did We Get For Our Money?
I SAT down at the club the other day and along came my friend the single-taxer. I like single-taxers. They rank with Christian Scientists and Socialists as our most enthusiastic believers, and in "these days of down-pulling and disbelief," to use Carlyle's phrase, it is refreshing to meet a man that believes hard. My own temper of mind being somewhat critical and inclined to question, I look with envy upon men of militant positivity. It's a good thing somebody is sure of something.
He held me in some interesting conversation which I herewith pass on to those more learned and equipped in economics than I.
"We've just paid twenty-five million dollars for the Danish West India islands," he said. "What did we get for our money?"
"Why, we got the islands, I suppose."
"We did, did we? Who's we?"
"Why, the people of the United States."
"Not at all. Those islands belong to a few landowners. They owned them when they were Danish. They own 'em now they are American. Just got a different colored flag, that's all."
"Well, there's something in that."
"Yes, sir. One of those islands, St. Croix, is as large as Manhattan Island, and it is owned entirely by three men. There are 25,000 people on St. Croix engaged in raising sugar-cane. For the privilege of living and working there they must give the three owners the greater part of the wealth they produce, just as the people on Manhattan Island must give the Astors and a few other families a big part of their earnings for the privilege of living there.
"Now that the United States has paid $25,000,000 for the power to govern the islands, it should do one of two things: It should either empower the 25,000 people who live on St. Croix to take for common use the rental value of the islands they live on, and should empower the people of the two other islands to do the same thing, or it should take the rental value itself and use the money for the benefit of the islanders. That is one way that we can get value in return for the $25,000,000 spent. Until we do take this rental value for public use, not one cent should be taken in taxation from the laborers who are producing wealth on the islands."
I repeated this conversation to a college professor and bitterly opposed to single tax. He said:
"Stuff and nonsense!"
I was glad to hear this convincing refutation of the single-taxer's screed. I knew there must be some answer to his specious arguments, of course, but I couldn't think what it was.