Oh, I was so pleased to read someone expressing it so clearly. Tell me about that house in Marin County. Let's see. Let's say our retirees bought it in, say, 1980, for, say $200,000. They probably put down 10% or 20% in those days (borrowing standards were a little different then). Let's say that they had a mortgage for, say $160,000, at 8%. They finished paying it off last year. The monthly mortgage payment was $1,174. Over the course of 30 years, they paid off $160,000 of principle, and paid the lender about $266,000 in interest. To rise from the $200,000 purchase price to today's value of $2 million, the average annual appreciation was about 8.3%. Obviously, some years it was more, some less. But 8.3% is an average.
What the paragraph quoted doesn't explain is how our hard-working retirees caused their property to appreciate by 8.3% per year over 30 years.
The reality is that houses depreciate. What rises in value is the land, and it rises for reasons which have nothing to do with the individual landholders, or even all the landholders in aggregate. Land appreciates as a result of the presence and growth of population and a healthy economy; as a result of the public provision of goods and services which people value and which make a community or state a better place to live. Advances in technology can also contribute to increases in land value -- consider elevators in cities, air conditioning in the American south, fiberglass boats in waterfront communities.
Our retirees experienced an 8.0% average annual growth in the value of their residence. Paying off their mortgage raised their equity by the $160,000 they originally borrowed. Appreciation, provided by their community and their nation, provided $1,800,000 -- over 10 times as much! Their hard work paid the mortgage, but their community contributed FAR more.
But, you might argue, they did pay property taxes all those years. Yes. Under Proposition 13, their property tax is based on 1% of the assessed value of the property, and the assessed value of the property can only rise by 2% per year, no matter how much the market value has risen. Voters can approve additional payments in the form of parcel taxes, which might bring taxes up to perhaps 1.25% of the assessed value of the property.
At 1.25%, over those 30 years, our hardworking Marin retirees have paid in $109,514 in property taxes. The rest of their "hard-earned" appreciation comes from
- the scarcity of housing close to California's cities, compared to the number of people who would like to live close in;
- spending supported by taxes on sales and wages -- which come not only from their own pockets but from the pockets of the 50% of California residents who are renters because they can't afford to buy;
- federal dollars spent on California infrastructure
- effects created by changes in mortgage interest rates and mortgage lending policies, including loan-to-value ratios, underwriting standards related to income ratios, etc.
Does it seem churlish that the Marin retirees' children should not be entitled to keep all that value we-the-people created just as if the retirees had created it themselves? After all, other people's children, including those of tenants, don't get to keep that value, but they've contributed to creating it.
A 15% capital gains tax on the $1,800,000 somehow seems an insufficient share for the commons. Even a 50% estate tax seems a bit insufficient, too.
This is trickle-up economics at work, and saying that some of it trickles to people we might consider middle class doesn't change the fact that some grow wealthy in their sleep, while others simply grow poor despite working hard for decades. The two situations are not unrelated. (And a $3.5 million estate doesn't fall into most definitions of middle class in America.)