land value tax

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pages: 346 words: 90,371

Rethinking the Economics of Land and Housing by Josh Ryan-Collins, Toby Lloyd, Laurie Macfarlane, John Muellbauer

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Australia has operated a system of applying land value tax that predates the creation of the independent country in 1901. The tax is administered at the state level and today there are two states which operate a universal land value tax, Queensland and New South Wales. The tax is applied to land regardless of whether income is earned from it, though primary residences are generally exempt. This exemption has the effect of removing around 60% of land by value from the tax base (Henry et al., 2009), but in 2015 land value tax still raised a total of AU$7.6 billion across Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015). One study which examined the effects of the land value taxation in Melbourne found evidence of a long-run association between the use of the land value tax and the intensity of development, and that land value taxes stimulate faster development (Lusht, 1992).

In the modern era, as the economic importance of land shifted from the production of food and other consumption goods, so the importance of land taxes for state revenue has declined, and has only partially been replaced by taxes on property such as business rates and housing transaction taxes (see Chapter 3). Ongoing taxes on the value of land – such as the land value tax advocated by Henry George ([1879] 1979) – remain many economists’ preferred mechanism for reducing economic rents (see Chapter 7). Land value tax clearly has many theoretical advantages, in that it reduces rather than increases distortions on investment decisions, lowers property prices by reducing speculative pressures on them, and forces the owners of landed property to make rational decisions about the amount of property that they wish to hold based on the ongoing costs.

These thinkers were keen to maintain the institution of private property, which they saw as important for economic development. A pure land value tax on the market value of unimproved land would appear to be the most economically efficient way of raising taxes, not distorting but rather supporting investment and productive activity. LVT also has a strong moral basis: capturing the unearned windfalls from collective development for the state and wider community. In the UK, the Mirrlees Review, the most comprehensive review of the UK tax system ever undertaken, notes: The economic case for taxing land itself is very strong and there is a long history of arguments in favour of it. Its supply is fixed and cannot be affected by the introduction of a tax. With the same amount of land available, people would not be willing to pay any more for it than before, so (the present value of) a land value tax (LVT) would be reflected one-for-one in a lower price of land: the classic example of tax capitalization.


pages: 356 words: 91,157

The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class?and What We Can Do About It by Richard Florida

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The most effective approach to spurring denser and more clustered development is to switch from our current local reliance on the property tax to a land value tax. Whereas the property tax taxes land and the structures on top of it, a land value tax taxes the underlying value of the land itself. In this way, it creates significant incentives for property owners to put that land to its most intensive use. The basic idea goes back to David Ricardo, who developed influential theories of free trade and comparative advantage in the early eighteenth century. Ricardo saw the unearned income that comes from land as pure waste. The most influential proponent of the land value tax was the late nineteenth-century economist Henry George. In his book Progress and Poverty, he argued that such a tax would not only make more effective use of land, but also raise wages, reduce inequality, and generate greater productivity.

The High Line Park in New York, for instance, created a huge increase in the land value of surrounding property, which generated windfalls for real estate developers, but little if any of those gains were returned to the park or the broader community. The same is true on a smaller scale in virtually every urban neighborhood that is seeing an influx of new residents, new restaurants and cafés, new and better schools, or reductions in crime. A land value tax can help ensure that those benefits are shared more broadly by the public, because the rise in the value of the land that occurs through these broader neighborhood improvements is also captured by the tax and returned to the public, where it can potentially be used to invest in needed services and help close economic gaps in the community. Another intriguing idea involves using local tax policy to essentially co-opt NIMBY opposition to new development.

Another intriguing idea involves using local tax policy to essentially co-opt NIMBY opposition to new development. The basic idea, referred to as tax increment local transfers, is to allow the residents of neighborhoods to share in the tax revenues that come from new development—for example, by rebating and reducing their own property taxes over a period of time.11 As politically difficult as it might seem to change local tax structures in these ways, the land value tax is attracting broad support from a wide array of economists and urbanists on both sides of the aisle. It is a move that would encourage more building where it is needed, increase density and clustering, and help to make both our cities and the economy stronger. INVEST IN THE INFRASTRUCTURE FOR DENSITY AND GROWTH Infrastructure is an important, and necessary, piece of the puzzle. If well planned and invested in strategically, it can help expand the scale of clustered development, the number of places that can support clustered development, and the connections between outlying areas and existing clustered development close to the urban center.


pages: 403 words: 111,119

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth

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He bought up an empty lot on a street in his home town of Rockford, Illinois and left it derelict, erecting only a giant billboard to explain why. He even turned it into a postcard to spread the message far and wide.36 Political performance art by Fay Lewis, Rockford, Illinois, 1914. George’s proposal for a land-value tax – an annual levy on underlying land values as a fair means of generating public revenue – echoed John Stuart Mill’s earlier call to tax ‘rentier landlords’ who ‘grow richer, as it were in their sleep, without working, risking, or economising’.37 Inspired by such reasoning, land-value taxes are now in use – albeit in diluted form – from Denmark and Kenya to the US, Hong Kong and Australia. But taxation to George was essentially a substitute for a more systemic fix: land, he believed, should be owned in common by a community, rather than by landowners.

John Stuart Mill also clearly saw the importance of Earth’s materials and energy in all economic production, but he wanted to distinguish social science from natural science and so (rather unhelpfully) proposed that the field of political economy focus on the laws of the mind, not the laws of matter.18 In the 1870s the radical American thinker Henry George pointed out that land gained value for its owners even if they did nothing to improve it, and so he advocated a land-value tax – prompting his influential (and land-owning) opponents to downplay the importance of land in economic theory from then on.19 The upshot of all this? The classical economists, led by Smith and Ricardo, had recognised labour, land and capital as three distinct factors of production. But by the late twentieth century, mainstream economics had reduced the focus to just two: labour and capital – and if ever land did get a mention, it was as just another form of capital, interchangeable with all the rest.20 As a result, mainstream economics is still taught today with scant attention paid to the living planet that supports us and the blazing star whose energy we depend upon.21 It relegates ecological stresses such as climate change, deforestation, and soil degradation to the periphery of economic thought, until they become so severe that their damaging economic impacts demand attention.

Fascinatingly, however, the game was originally called ‘The Landlord’s Game’ and was designed precisely to reveal the injustice arising out of such concentrated property ownership, not to celebrate it. The game’s inventor Elizabeth Magie was an outspoken supporter of Henry George’s ideas and when she first created her game in 1903 she gave it two very different sets of rules to be played in turn. Under the ‘Prosperity’ set of rules, every player gained each time someone acquired a new property (echoing George’s call for a land value tax), and the game was won (by all) when the player who had started out with the least money had doubled it. Under the second, ‘Monopolist’ set of rules, players gained by charging rent to those who were unfortunate enough to land on their properties – and whoever managed to bankrupt the rest was the sole winner. The purpose of the dual sets of rules, said Magie, was for players to experience a ‘practical demonstration of the present system of land grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences’ and so understand how different approaches to property ownership can lead to vastly different social outcomes.


pages: 233 words: 66,446

Bitcoin: The Future of Money? by Dominic Frisby

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It will mean greater state resources are required to stop evaders and avoiders. An investigation might not be worth the cost for the amount it levies. This, of course, raises all sorts of moral issues. But taxation, in its current form, will be harder to enforce and more costly to levy. In all probability, we’ll move towards the taxation of consumption and assets, rather than labour – a land value tax, even (see the footnote for more on land value tax177). Charles Hoskinson, CEO of Ethereum – dubbed ‘Bitcoin 2.0’ – says to me: I think it’s going to go to a national sales tax. If you’re a business you’re going to probably have a physical footprint because you have warehouses, you have to store products, you have a store front, you have to register with the government. If you’re an Internet business, maybe then you can live 100% in the cloud.

Riegel, ‘The New Approach to Freedom’, Chapter 3, The Heather Foundation, 2003, http://bit.ly/1tHF956. 173 Michael McLeay, Amar Radia, Ryland Thomas, ‘Money creation in the modern economy’, Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin, Q1 2014. 174 Dominic Frisby, Life After the State (London, Unbound, 2013). 175 ‘National Average Wage Index 2012,’ US Social Security Administration, accessed March 17, 2014, http://1.usa.gov/1trvGLy. 176 The average UK wage has gone from around from £2,000 per annum in 1971 to around £25,000 in 2014. 177 The most obvious form of consumption tax, and the hardest to hide, is to tax use of the land – land value tax. Its proponents argue that it would also bring about the much needed re-balancing of land ownership. Seventy per cent of the UK, for example, is owned by 0.7% of the people – and they receive subsidy for it. A world in which they have to pay tax on that land, instead of receiving subsidy for it, would see many sell land they are not making use of because it has become a liability rather than an asset. 178 Satoshi Nakamoto, ‘Re: Bitcoin P2P e-cash paper,’ Cryptography Mailing List, November 14, 2008, accessed March 17, 2014, http://bit.ly/1tru7NC.


pages: 448 words: 142,946

Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition by Charles Eisenstein

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These properly belong to all of us, and their depletion should only happen by common agreement and for the common good. Transition and policy: Some states and nations already levy land-value taxes, and others have nationalized oil and minerals. The country of Bolivia and the state of Alaska, for example, assert public ownership over oil rights, so that oil companies earn money only for their services in extracting the oil, and not from owning the oil. Shifting the tax burden away from labor and toward property will become more and more attractive as wage earners’ situations become desperate. Finally, as intractable regulatory battles over water rights show, building resource conservation directly into the money system is an idea whose time is coming. Measures such as Georgist land-value taxes, leasing of mineral rights, and the use of the subjects of economic rent as a currency backing as described in this book are ways to return economic rents to the people, so that private interests can only profit by using property well, not by merely owning it.

Thus, paradoxically, improving land can raise the value of the underlying unimproved land, creating a disincentive to make improvements. I think these difficulties, which apply to some degree to other kinds of natural capital, are resolvable, but a detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this book. 5. For example, land could gradually be bought out from private ownership by instituting a 3-percent land-value tax initially paid for by existing equity so that owners would only have to start paying the tax thirty-three years later. 6. Economist Henry Simons wrote to Fisher in 1934, “Savings-deposits, treasury certificates, and even commercial paper are almost as close to demand deposits as are demand deposits to legal-tender currency. The whole problem which we now associate with commercial banking might easily reappear in other forms of financial arrangements.… Little would be gained by putting demand deposit banking on a 100% basis if that change were accompanied by increasing disposition to hold, and increasing facilities for holding, liquid ‘cash’ reserves in the form of time-deposits.


pages: 363 words: 92,422

A Fine Mess by T. R. Reid

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It is true that disappointment has followed disappointment, and that discovery upon discovery, and invention after invention, have neither lessened the toil nor brought plenty to the poor.1 In another striking parallel with Piketty, Henry George came up with the same proposed tool to deal with the problem of inequality: taxes. Piketty calls for personal income tax rates as high as 80% and for an international wealth tax, like the one that’s used in France, to extract even more from the richest taxpayers. George, in contrast, came up with a distinctive approach to taxation—indeed, an idea so radical it had not been tried before. This new system he called the Land Value Tax, or simply the Single Tax. — FROM THE ECONOMISTS, George took the basic principle that when you tax something, you generally get less of it. Therefore, a tax on labor—such as an income tax or a payroll tax deduction for Social Security—would lead people to work less and reduce overall productivity. A tax on commerce—such as a sales tax or a corporate profits tax—would diminish business activity and innovation.

Logically, this might have led to a system that seized the land belonging to the Some and dispersed it equally to All. While Henry George was a radical, though, he was not so radical as to call for confiscation of private property. In his system, the rich could keep their land, but they were to be taxed to pay for this privilege. “The land belongs equally to all, and land values . . . should be shared among all.” George proposed that governments impose a heavy tax on the value of land. In fact, this Land Value Tax was to be so heavy that the revenues would be enough to replace the income from all other forms of taxation. All governments would need only one form of tax. And because this Single Tax would be paid almost entirely by the landowning elites, working people would be free to spend and save their earnings without the need to fund government through other forms of taxation. The rich would pay more, the working class would pay less, and over time inequality of wealth would sharply diminish.


pages: 504 words: 143,303

Why We Can't Afford the Rich by Andrew Sayer

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In keeping with the main argument of this book, we need not only to tax the rich and redistribute wealth back to the rest, but to cut back their sources of unearned income in the first place. First, rent. The most obvious way to stop private owners from extracting rent (beyond covering construction and maintenance costs) from others is to nationalise land and minerals, so that rent comes under democratic control, or for the state to tax ground rent through a land-value tax. Those who are horrified by the idea of land nationalisation need to be reminded that it need not prevent people owning buildings and benefitting from improving them and the land; it’s just a matter of recovering for society the gains made from the privatisation of nature and space itself. Although state-controlled rents are likely to be much lower than private rents they can still be set higher in the more sought-after areas than in less-popular areas.

And in much more equal societies, differences in what land and property users are willing to pay will reflect mainly differences in their needs and wants rather than differences in income. However, under international law, nationalisation of land would require compensation of landowners (in effect, compensating them for the loss of the benefit of providing a disservice to tenants), whereas states are free to charge whatever taxes they like. A land-value tax has been favoured on the Right as well as the Left: in the US, it was advocated by the capitalist reformer Henry George. It would, he argued, stop landowners siphoning profits from enterprises in the form of rent and thereby holding back development. In the 18th century, it was supported by Adam Smith. Even Chicago economist Milton Friedman, a key figure in the rise of neoliberalism, described it as ‘the least bad tax’.6 Of course, neoliberal politicians ignore this, as their parties rely on the votes and financial support of property-owning classes and rentiers, so instead they encourage rent as a source of income.


pages: 198 words: 52,089

Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard V. Reeves

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The very phrase “landed gentry” highlighted the historical connection between land, wealth, and status. The regulation, taxation, and control of land have been important areas of European political contest and public policy. But it was a nineteenth century American economist, Henry George, who popularized the idea that increases in the value of land ought to be seen as a public rather than private benefit and so pioneered a proposal for a land value tax. George’s ideas fell on largely stony soil in his own country, where land was seen as a birthright, but had some impact on economic scholarship and policies in Europe as well as some postcolonial nations like Singapore and Australia. Today the United States is pretty cramped in many of its most productive cities and regions. The financial crisis and housing crash put the housing market under the microscope, and it was not a pretty sight.


pages: 322 words: 88,197

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

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For a long time, her greatest claim to fame came through an act of political performance art, placing a mock advertisement in a local paper that put herself on the market as a “young woman American slave”—protesting the oppressive wage gap between male and female salaries, and mocking the mercenary nature of many traditional marriages. Magie was also a devotee of the then-influential economist Henry George, who had argued in his 1879 best-selling book Progress and Poverty for an annual “land-value tax” on all land held as private property—high enough to obviate the need for other taxes on income or production. Many progressive thinkers and activists of the period integrated “Georgist” proposals for single-tax plans into their political platforms and stump speeches. But only Lizzie Magie appears to have decided that radical tax reform might make compelling subject matter for a board game.