Found in the files ... the phrase at the beginning of the 3rd paragraph caught my attention, and then the rest seemed worth sharing:
Thank you for letting me see Mr. ___'s thoughtful and thought-provoking paper on tax incidence.
I could go through this paper in detail, praising where I think it warranted and criticizing in other spots. However, it seems more constructive to offer, tentatively, a different set of parameters, which, for me at least, clarify the matter of incidence as no current author is doing. At least it will suggest a different viewpoint from which to analyze incidence.
In the first place, land values are the great catch-all of externalities, both positive ones and negative ones. To an extent, that is what Lowell [Harriss]'s conferences on "Subsidies and Other Government Spending: Effects, with Special Reference to Land Values" and the subsequent book "Government Spending & Land Values: Public Money and Private Gain" were all about.
In the second place, as his paper points out, taxes on land values are not shifted and taxes on improvements are shifted, and for the reasons he states: land is of fixed supply and improvements are not. This, ceteris paribus, is why they are built into price and paid for by the consumer in the one case and are reflected in a lower price in the other.
But there is a factor not cited in the paper, nor in the limited amount of the literature with which I am familiar: that is the current state of the economy -- whether we are in a boom or a bust. When the demand for office or residential space is lively, the lessor waits only for the expiration of the current lease (and only if he must!) to raise the tenant's rent; when the rental market is in the doldrums, he grins and bears it, or is foreclosed, or tears his building down, to escape taxes.
I think the idea of "backward shifting" is specious; I believe it is a conconction of dear old Harry Gunnison Brown's. It has certainly set thinking on incidence back generations, having muddied the waters of a simple phenomenon to the point where no one seems to know anything certain at this time.
Lastly, may I suggest that Mr. ___ dip into Homer Hoyt's "100 Years of Land Value in Chicago," Chapter 7, especially pp. 373-403, where Hoyt lists the order in which various phenomena occur from trough to trough. He counts twenty of them; the enclosed chart, based on Hoyt, expands the list to thirty, in the interest of elucidation. In this he will see how land values tend to lag on the upside somewhat at the beginning, then get out of hand completely, and finally again especially lagging on the downside. In this he may discover primary forces affecting the natural tendencies of incidence.
--at least, this is what I think I see in all this. Thanks again for the opportunity of studying this interesting paper.
--from a letter from Weld Carter to Arthur Becker
(professor of economics, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and
in response to someone's paper on tax incidence, March, 1976.
Hoyt's book is referenced elsewhere in this blog:
- See The Boom-Bust Cycle for a list of the 30 phenomena Carter refers to.
- Mason Gaffney discusses them in his "The Great Crash of 2008" (see the LVTfan blogpost here).
- and finally, Which Georgist first called LVT the "least bad" tax? contains a reference to Hoyt; this book was his PhD thesis at the University of Chicago, which Milton Friedman was likely aware of when he said, both in the 1970s and shortly before he died in 2006, that land value taxation was the "least bad" tax. (Incidently, that blogpost title does not refer to Friedman; it refers to Lowell Harriss, mentioned in Carter's letter.)
Finally, you might take a look at Carter's discussion of Hoyt in his Clarion Call.