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Some of those already in office in other
places have, moreover, taken the Milwaukee policy as their model and
announced their intention to follow it. Mayor Seidel's statement after a
year in office, and the explanations of the Rev. Carl Thompson (the city
clerk) made about the same time, cover the essential points for the
present discussion.

Both the statement of the mayor and that of the city clerk are concerned
with matters that interest primarily the business man and taxpayer. Mr.
Thompson disclaims that there is anything essentially new even in the
Socialists' plans, to say nothing of their performances. He says of the
most discussed municipal projects under consideration by the Socialist
administration that all were advocated either by former administrations,
by one or both of the older parties or by some of their leading members.
He mentions the proposed river park, railway terminal station, and
electric lighting plans, as well as home rule for Milwaukee, as being
all strictly conservative projects (as they are). Other plans mentioned
by Mayor Seidel--harbor improvements, playgrounds, a sterilization
plant, and isolation hospital--are approved, if not by the conservatives
of Milwaukee, at least by those of many other cities. Some minor and
less expensive proposals, a child welfare commission, a board of
recreation, and municipal dances are somewhat more novel. These are all
the social reforms mentioned by the mayor, as planned or accomplished,
with the exception of those that have to do primarily with efficiency or
economy in municipal administration, such as improvement in street
cleaning, sanitary inspection and inspection of weights and measures,
which all conservative reform administration seek to bring about; many
cities, especially abroad, having been eminently successful in this
direction.

To secure the political support of taxpayers and business men, further
evidence was required to show that the administration is neither doing
nor likely to do anything unprecedented. They want a safe and sane
business policy, and assurances that new sources of income will, if
possible, be secured and applied to the reduction of taxation; or that,
in case taxes are raised, municipal reforms will so improve business and
rental values, as to bring into their pockets more than the increased
taxation has cost them.

Mayor Seidel and City Clerk Thompson presented entirely satisfactory
evidences on all these points. Business methods have been introduced, a
"complete inventory" of the property of the city is being made, "blanket
appropriations" are done away with, "a new system of voucher bills has
been installed," all the departments are being brought on "a uniform
accounting basis." Finally, taxable property is being listed that was
formerly overlooked, and the city is more careful in settling financial
claims against it. Mayor Seidel and City Clerk Thompson both promise
that taxes will not be increased; the former points to the new resources
from property that had escaped taxation and to the future rise in value
of land the city intends to purchase, the latter refers to
"revenue-producing enterprises which will relieve the burden of taxation
rather than increase it." Neither goes so far as to suggest any plan,
like the present law of Great Britain, introduced by a capitalist
government, according to which not only are the taxes of the wealthy
raised, but one fifth of the future increase of value of city lands, as
being due to the community, accrues to the public treasury. It is true
that such measures would have to be approved by the State of Wisconsin,
but this would not prevent them being made the one prominent issue in
the city campaign, and insistently demanded until they are obtained. The
mayor's attitude on this tax question, which underlies all others, far
from being Socialistic, is not even radical.


The tendency seems to have been widespread in the municipal
campaigns undertaken by the Socialists in the fall of 1911, to
abandon even radical, though capitalistic, municipal reformers'
policy of raising new taxes to pay for reforms that bring modest
benefits to the workers, but chiefly raise realty values and
promote the interests of "business," and to substitute for this the
conservative policy of reducing taxes. Thus the _Bridgeport
Socialist_ advised the voters:--

"Municipal ownership means cheaper water, cheaper light, cheaper
gas, cheaper electricity, and a steady revenue into the city
treasury _which would reduce taxes_." (Italics mine.)[156]

One might infer that the masses of Bridgeport were already
sufficiently supplied with schools, parks, and all the free
services a municipality can give.

Of course it is true that a considerable part of the wage earners
in our small cities own their own homes (subject often to heavy
mortgages) and, _other things remaining as they are_, would like to
have taxes reduced. But two facts are indisputable: the average
taxes paid by the wage earners are insignificant compared with
those of the wealthier classes, and the wage earner gets, at first
at least, an equal share in the benefits of most municipal
expenditures. The Socialists know that most of the economic
benefits are later absorbed by increasing rents; and that
capitalist judges and State governments will see to it that only
such expenditures are allowed as have this result, or such as have
the effect, through improving efficiency, of increasing profits
faster than wages. Socialists recognize, however, that at least
municipal collectivism is in the line of capitalist progress, with
some incidental benefits to labor, while the policy of decreasing
taxes on the unearned increment of land is nothing less than
reaction.

The only popular ground on which such a policy could be defended is
the fallacy that landlords transmit to tenants the fluctuations in
taxes, in the form of increased or diminished rents. Even if this
were true, the tenants would be as likely as not to profit by
enlarged municipal expenditures (_i.e._ in spite of paying for a
_minor_ part of their cost). But in the large cities, as a matter
of fact, 90 per cent of the wage earners, who are tenants, and not
home owners, do not feel these fluctuations at all. Increased land
taxes do not as a rule cause an increase in average rents.
Increased land taxes force unimproved land upon the market, and
compel its improvement, to escape loss in holding it unimproved and
idle. The resulting increased competition for tenants operates on
the average to _reduce_ rents, not to increase them. The taxes are
paid at the cost of _reduced profits_ for the landlord--until
population begins to increase more rapidly than taxes. The
capitalist leaders perceive the truth as regards this plainly
enough. Thus, in their anxiety to get both landlord and capitalist
support in the last municipal campaign in New York City, various
allied real estate interests claimed credit for their work in
keeping taxes down. Commenting upon the subject, the _New York
Times_ said: "Rents do not rise with taxes. If they did, the owner
would merely need to pass the taxes along to the renter and be rid
of the subject."[157] The next day Mayor Gaynor in a letter to the
_Times_ quoted a message he had sent to the city council in the
previous year in which he had said: "Every landlord knows that he
cannot add the taxes to rents. If he could, he would not care how
high taxes grew. He would simply throw them on his tenants."

It is difficult, therefore, to see why the tenants of New York City
or Bridgeport should favor lower taxes, so long as they and their
children are in need of further public advantages that increased
taxes would enable the municipalities to supply. To favor reduced
taxes, while private ownership of land prevails, is not Socialism,
or even progressive capitalism. It is, as I have said, _reaction_.


The _New York Volkszeitung_ expresses in a few words the correct
Socialist attitude on municipal expenditures. After showing the need of
more money for schools, hygienic measures, etc., it concludes:--


"These increased expenditures of municipalities are thus absolutely
necessary if a Socialist city government is to fulfill its tasks.
Since the municipal expenditures must be raised through taxation,
it is evident that a good Socialist city government must raise the
taxes if it is up to the level of its duties. Provided that--as
just remarked--the raising of the taxes is so managed that the
possessing classes are hit by it and not the poor and the
workingmen.

"Most of the Socialist municipal administrations have been
shattered hitherto by the tax question; that has been especially
evident in France, where the Socialists lost the towns captured by
them because their administration appeared to be more costly than
those of their capitalist predecessors. That has happened
especially wherever the small capitalist element played a rôle in
the Socialist movement.

"We shall undoubtedly have this experience in America, also, if we
do not make it clear to the masses of workingmen that good city
government for them means a more expensive city government, and
that they are interested in this increase of the cost of the city
administration."[158]


If the Socialists promise much and perform comparatively little, they
have as a valid reason the fact that the city does not have the
authority. But opponents can also say, as does the Milwaukee _Journal_,
that "the administration would not dare to carry out its promises to
engage in municipal Socialism if it had the authority." For while
municipal "Socialism" or public ownership is perfectly good capitalism,
it is not always good politics in a community where the small taxpayers
dominate.

While the plans for municipal wood and coal yards and plumbing shops
were doubtless abandoned in Milwaukee by reason of legal limitations,
and not merely to please the small traders, as some have contended, no
Socialist reason can be given for the practical abandonment years ago of
the proposed plan for municipal ownership of street railways.



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Keywords: conservative, public, property, raised, reforms, bridgeport, measures, especially, socialism, reduced
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