In 1980 Emile Woolf was in Hartford, Connecticut, to receive the University’s “Distinguished Service Award – Author”. At the celebratory lunch he sat next to the Hon. Al Ullman, Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee, whose Tax Restructuring Bill was undergoing passage in the House prior to becoming law, its main purpose being the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) as a US federal tax.

“I always knew there was something wrong with that tax!” Over 30 years have since passed, and to this day America has been spared this dreadful tax.

Emile was outspoken in his critical comments on this form of indirect taxation: it is indiscriminate in its incidence, regressive, inflationary, costly, cumbersome, susceptible to fraud and it disregards taxable capacity altogether, falling indiscriminately on rich and poor alike. Furthermore, it is not a tax on “added value” at all – rather a tax on consumption. Al Ullman invited Emile to Washington to put his points to the think-tank then working on the Bill’s detail. After several hours of debate, during which Emile explained that a true tax on added value, which does reflect taxable capacity, would be a far more worthy focus for “tax restructuring”, Al Ullman ripped the Bill in half and tossed it into the waste-bin, muttering “I always knew there was something wrong with that tax!” Over 30 years have since passed, and to this day America has been spared this dreadful tax.

Emile has written extensively on the advantages of changing the incidence of taxation. A tax on the value of land (excluding buildings and other improvements) would, for example, fund the cost of infrastructure projects that serve the whole community. Enhanced infrastructure causes the value of land to rise and a tax on that value would meet the cost of the infrastructure itself. Such a tax exists in many parts of the world. Perhaps the most graphic visual display of its virtues is to be seen in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, where a tax imposed on the unimproved value of land – leaving all improvements and residential housing untaxed – serves as a powerful incentive to improve commercial sites to the point of giving their maximum yield.