Land Value Taxation will solve many of the 21st century's most serious social, economic and environmental problems, and promote justice, fairness and sustainability. We CAN have a world in which all can prosper.
Progress and Poverty, by Henry George Here are links to online editions of George's landmark book, Progress & Poverty, including audio and a number of abridgments -- the shortest is 30 words! I commend this book to your attention, if you are concerned about economic justice, poverty, sprawl, energy use, pollution, wages, housing affordability. Its observations will change how you approach all these problems. A mind-opening experience!
Henry George: Progress and Poverty: An inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth ... The Remedy This is perhaps the most important book ever written on the subjects of poverty, political economy, how we might live together in a society dedicated to the ideals Americans claim to believe are self-evident. It will provide you new lenses through which to view many of our most serious problems and how we might go about solving them: poverty, sprawl, long commutes, despoilation of the environment, housing affordability, wealth concentration, income concentration, concentration of power, low wages, etc. Read it online, or in hardcopy.
Bob Drake's abridgement of Henry George's original: Progress and Poverty: Why There Are Recessions and Poverty Amid Plenty -- And What To Do About It! This is a very readable thought-by-thought updating of Henry George's longer book, written in the language of a newsweekly. A fine way to get to know Henry George's ideas. Available online at progressandpoverty.org and http://www.henrygeorge.org/pcontents.htm
Where Else Might You Look?
Wealth and Want The URL comes from the subtitle to Progress & Poverty -- and the goal is widely shared prosperity in the 21st century. How do we get there from here? A roadmap and a reference source.
Reforming the Property Tax for the Common Good I'm a tax reform activist who seeks to promote fairness and reduce poverty. Let's start with the enabling legislation and state requirements for the property tax. There are opportunities for great good!
The tax plan being promoted by one of the presidential candidates, Herman Cain, seeks to impose a federal personal and corporate tax rate of 9% and a national sales tax of 9%. The word for "no" in German is "nein." Since the 9-9-9 plan would be neither equitable nor efficient, we can respond in German, "nein, nein, nein!"
The first "nein" is on the 9% business flat-rate income tax. This would impose a tax on gross income minus purchases from US firms, investment in capital goods, and exports. That would be much better for enterprise than the current top income tax rate of 35%. However, recognizing that any taxes on production has an excess burden, the best tax rate of all would be a flat zero.
The second "nein" is on a personal income tax rate of 9% on gross income minus charitable donations. The plan complicates this with special tax rates in "empowerment zones." Such enterprise zones often just shift business away from other areas, and then the land rent in the zone goes up to soak up the locational advantage, so the ultimate gainers are the landowners, especially those who are politically well connected and are able to buy up land in the zones prior to being established.
The poorest workers pay little or no income tax today, or even get cash under the "earned income tax credit". The flat-rate 9% tax would make the poor pay higher taxes. Again, a 9% tax is better for most taxpayers than the current tax rates that go up to 35%, and a flat tax that eliminates real estate deductions and exemptions is also better, but best of all would be a flat wage and profits tax of 0%.
The worst part of the 9-9-9 plan is the 9% national sales tax. While to some extent the effect of the sales tax would be offset by the reduction of income taxes, still, sales taxes get added to the cost of production to increase the price of goods. For companies that were making little profit, they would have paid little income tax, so the tax could end up raising their prices by more than the current tax system. If they employ low-wage labor, those workers would have been paying little or no income tax, and would now have to pay the higher nine-percent income tax, which would further increase costs to those enterprises. The 9-9-9 plan would dramatically increase income inequality at a time when inequality has already been rising rapidly.
The 9-9-9 plan is supposed to be revenue-neutral, but analysts have found that it would generate less revenue than the current system, so the 9-9-9 numbers would probably be raised to 10-10-10 or higher. Once a national sales tax or value added tax is in place, the tax rates could be raised, as they have been in Europe.
It has been pointed out that the tax plan being promoted by Herman Cain is the same as the tax structure in the 2003 video game "SimCity 4". This video game simulates a city, and the default tax rate is 9-9-9. According to some analysts, in this simulation game, the 9% tax rates were not enough to finance the desired public goods.
The favoring of one tax plan implies the rejection of the other systems. The advocacy of a national sales tax implies the rejection of alternatives such as a national land-value tax. So we can ask why a candidate is rejecting a tax on land value in favor of a tax on produced goods.
Herman Cain is correct in saying that the natural state of the economy is prosperity, and that freedom promotes prosperity. He is right in saying that government must get out of the way of production. He is right in saying that production drives the economy. But he does not go to the logical conclusion of the free-market argument: marginal tax rates of zero. To best promote employment, investment, and growth, place no tax on additional production, trade, or consumption.
A land-value tax would best let the economy rise to its natural rate of prosperity. LVT would be levied on the economic rent of all land. Taxing land value is equivalent to taxing its economic rent, also referred to as ground rent or geo-rent. LVT would be based on the most productive use of a plot of land, regardless of current use, and regardless of current rental payments. Thus if a plot of land were not being used as productively as possible, the tax would push landowners to make the best possible use of their lands, or else pay the same as those who do.
LVT would promote equity and greater equality of income and wealth, because it would equalize the benefits from land, and equalize the gains from economic progress as captured by higher rent.
The prices of goods, including wages and interest rates, provide information about their scarcity relative to the desire for those items. Taxes both on production and on goods twist, distort, and skew these numbers, so that the economy is operating on false signals. LVT does not change the market rent, and rather than acting as a tax, it acts to remove a subsidy. Land value gets subsidized as the public goods provided by government, but not paid for by landowners, pumps up rent and land value. If this rent is not collected for public revenue, then it is a gigantic subsidy to land ownership. Thus taxes on goods and on income from production and not on land value end up subsidizing land value and shifting wealth from the poor to the rich.
Thus if the 9-9-9 plan increases wealth, the gains would go to the rich at further expense to the poor. The worst part of the plan is its continuation of the massive subsidy to land value, and even if the plan generates more growth, the benefit will ultimately go to higher rent and land value, generating an even greater real estate boom to be followed by another big crash.
So let's say in German: Nein! Nein! Nein! Let's also say Zero, Zero, Zero! Zero tax on wages, zero tax on goods, zero subsidy to land value. The tax emperor appears to be dressed to the nines, but like in the story of the naked emperor, the cloth is imaginary. -- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2010 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
The post below this one is my attempt. Here's another, from Sunday's NYT.
By JILL LEPORE | Published: October 15, 2011
Jill Lepore is a professor of history at Harvard and the author of “The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History.”
A cartoon of Henry George when he ran for mayor of New York in 1886.
IN the Republican debate on Tuesday, the restaurant industry executive Herman Cain, deftly countering a quip, said his “9, 9, 9” economic plan, which calls for a 9 percent corporate tax, a 9 percent income tax and a 9 percent national sales tax, “didn’t come off a pizza box.” Asked where it did come from, he said “the American people,” but added that he also has a team of economic advisers.
“One of my experts that helped me to develop this is a gentleman by the name of Rich Lowrie out of Cleveland, Ohio,” Mr. Cain said. “He is an economist.” Mr. Lowrie, a licensed stockbroker, is a wealth management consultant for Wells Fargo.
Henry George, the most popular American economic thinker of the 19th century, was a populist before populism had a name. His economic plan was known as the Single Tax. His plan wasn’t 9-9-9; it was just: 1.
George was born in Philadelphia in 1839. He left school at 14 to sail to India and Australia on board a ship called the Hindoo. At the time, a lot of people were writing about India as a place of jewels and romance; George was struck by its poverty.
Returning to Philadelphia, he became a printer’s apprentice. He went to New York where he saw, for the first time, “the shocking contrast between monstrous wealth and debasing want.” In 1858, he joined the crew of a ship sailing around the Cape Horn because it was the only way he could afford to get to California. In San Francisco, he edited a newspaper; it soon failed. He spent most of his life editing newspapers, and, as with every other industry in the 19th century, many of them failed. In 1865, George was reduced to begging in the streets.
The 19th century was the Age of Progress: the steam engine, the power loom, the railroad. (Awestruck wonder at progress animated that era the way the obsession with innovation animates American politics today.) George believed that the other side of progress was poverty. The railroad crossed the continent in 1869. From the West, George wrote an essay called “What the Railroad Will Bring Us.” His answer: the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. In a Fourth of July oration in 1877, George declared, “no nation can be freer than its most oppressed, richer than its poorest, wiser than its most ignorant.”
In 1879, George finished a draft of his most important book. “Discovery upon discovery, and invention after invention, have neither lessened the toil of those who most need respite, nor brought plenty to the poor,” George wrote. He thought the solution was to abolish all taxes on labor and instead impose a single tax, on land. He sent the manuscript to New York. When no one would publish it, he set the type himself and begged publishers simply to ink his plates. The book, “Progress and Poverty,” sold three million copies.
George was neither a socialist nor a communist; he influenced Tolstoy but he disagreed with Marx. He saw himself as defending “the Republicanism of Jefferson and the Democracy of Jackson.” He had a bit of Melville in him (the sailor) and some of Thoreau (“We do not ride on the railroad,” Thoreau wrote from Walden. “It rides upon us.”) But, really, he was a Tocquevillian. Tocqueville believed that democracy in America was made possible by economic equality: people with equal estates will eventually fight for, and win, equal political rights. George agreed. But he thought that speculative, industrial capitalism was destroying democracy by making economic equality impossible. A land tax would solve all.
In 1886, George decided to run for mayor of New York. Democrats urged him not to, telling him he had no chance and would only raise hell. “You have relieved me of embarrassment,” George answered. “I do not want the responsibility and the work of the office of the Mayor of New York, but I do want to raise hell.” The Democrat, Abram Hewitt, won, but George got more votes than the Republican, Theodore Roosevelt.
In the 1880s, George campaigned for the single tax, free trade and ballot reform. The last succeeded. George is why, on Election Day, your polling place supplies you with a ballot that you mark in secret. This is known as an Australian ballot, and George brought it back from his voyage halfway around the world.
George ran for mayor of New York again in 1897 but died in his bed four days before the election. His body lay in state at Grand Central. More than 100,000 mourners came to pay their respects. The New York Times said, “Not even Lincoln had a more glorious death.” And then: he was left behind.
Even Clarence Darrow, who admired him, recanted. “The error I found in the philosophy of Henry George,” Darrow wrote, “was its cocksureness, its simplicity, and the small value that it placed on the selfish motives of men.”
I have a family member who, when Herman Cain says "9-9-9," plays a sound bite of another voice shouting "nein! nein! nein!"
Georgists have a better proposal for how we ought to fund our common spending.
0% tax on wages
0% tax on sales
0% tax on corporate profits
0% tax on buildings and equipment
100% recovery of our commonwealth
This probably raises several questions in your mind:
what is "recovery of our commonwealth"?
how will it affect me?
Our commonwealth includes the value of land -- not the improvements made by the present or previous owner, but the value of the site itself, which is created by the gifts of nature; by the investment of the local, state and national communities in public goods and services (including most "pork"); by the presence of the community and its economic activity. While good farmland may be worth $5,000 or $10,000 per acre, depending on climate and proximity to markets, suburban residential lots might be $35,000 to $1,000,000 -- or far more! -- per acre, and an acre in midtown Manhattan can be worth $250,000,000 or more. The landholder doesn't create that locational value.
Our commonwealth includes the value of ecosystem services. It includes the value of electromagnetic spectrum (the airwaves which most people would agree rightly belong to the American people, not to corporations). It includes the value of water, particularly fresh water for drinking and water for irrigating crops and for corporate use. It includes the value of government-granted privileges. It includes the value of geosynchronous orbits -- those parking spots in space for satellites whose owners and customers would not want to see crashing into each other. It includes the value of landing rights at busy congested constrained airports, such as LaGuardia or JFK, particularly at their rush hours. It includes the value of scarce on-street parking in congested cities. It includes the value of nonrenewable natural resources extracted from below the earth and the oceans, for 200 miles beyond our land borders. It includes a whole range of other similar things.
As you look at that paragraph, compare it to the 0-0-0-0 list above, and notice that it collects upfront certain values, and leaves the rest to those who produce. It is direct taxation rather than indirect, and one could reasonably argue that it isn't even really taxation; rather it is more in the nature of a user-fee.
It is Natural Public Revenue.
Once one has sat with this idea for a while, it seems quite unnatural to permit the value to continue to accrue to private individuals, or to corporations publicly or privately owned, or to entities other than the community as a whole!
Recall how concentrated wealth is in the US: The 2007 SCF [the Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances] reported that aggregate net worth is "distributed" as follows:
Top 1% of us have 33.8%
Next 4% of us 26.6% [cumulative: 60.4%]
Next 5% of us 11.1% [cumulative: 71.5%]
Next 40% of us 26.0% [cumulative 97.5%]
Bottom 50% of us 2.5%
Recall also that the Forbes 400 families are specifically and intentionally omitted from the SCF, and that Forbes estimates that they represent 2.5% of aggregate net worth. So add that 2.5% to the numerator and denominator. And note, as Michael Moore did, that it is very similar to the value of the Net Worth of the bottom 50% of us.
And it seems quite unnatural to tax wages, and sales, and corporate profits, and buildings at all before we've fully collected Natural Public Revenue.
Will Natural Public Revenue be sufficient to meet all the needs of all levels of government?
Quite possibly not, at least today when we are so reliant on a social safety net because current conditions have kept a significant share of our people from providing well for themselves. But I regard it as altogether possible that within a generation or two, it could be quite sufficient, in part because it would have the effect of redistributing some of the wealth which today is pouring into the pockets of a relative few of us.
How much of corporate profits are coming from (quite legal) privatization of the value of natural resources, the value of being able to get away with polluting air, water and soil, and the value of other privileges which corporations -- public and private -- are used to enjoying? One of the interesting findings in the SCF is that the value of privately held businesses [BUS] actually exceeds the value of publicly held ones [EQUITY] in household wealth -- and the value of both is highly concentrated:
Consider, too, how much more of this value the Forbes 400 have! These two categories represent 21.2% and 23.1% of aggregate net worth held by the rest of us -- a total of 44.3%. Most of the 2.5% is likely in these two categories. I'll leave the math to you.
Do tax structures affect aggregate economic growth? Empirical evidence from a panel of OECD countries
This paper examines the relationship between tax structures and economic growth by entering indicators of the tax structure into a set of panel growth regressions for 21 OECD countries, in which both the accumulation of physical and human capital are taken into account.
The results of the analysis suggest that income taxes are generally associated with lower economic growth than taxes on consumption and property. More precisely, the findings allow the establishment of a ranking of tax instruments with respect to their relationship to economic growth. Property taxes, and particularly recurrent taxes on immovable property, seem to be the most growth-friendly, followed by consumption taxes and then by personal income taxes. Corporate income taxes appear to have the most negative effect on GDP per capita.
These findings suggest that a revenue-neutral growth-oriented tax reform would be to shift part of the revenue base towards recurrent property and consumption taxes and away from income taxes, especially corporate taxes. There is also evidence of a negative relationship between the progressivity of personal income taxes and growth.
All of the results are robust to a number of different specifications, including controlling for other determinants of economic growth and instrumenting tax indicators.
Readers of this blog will know that I favor shifting to a tax on land value, and eliminating the portion of the conventional property tax which falls on buildings and other improvements to land. But I'm fascinated that their analysis shows that even taxing buildings and other improvements to land, along with land value, is superior to taxing consumption or personal income or corporate income, in terms of the effects on economic growth.
So I'll leave you with this question: if we know that income taxes and consumption taxes discourage growth more than the conventional property tax does, in whose interest is it that we not rely heavily on the property tax? Cui bono?
Go to the root of the problem. Recognize who benefits from the status quo. They like the current system just fine, and will fund heavily efforts to conserve it.
And when California (Proposition 13 forces reliance on wage and sales taxes to "protect" property owners) and other states, including soon Indiana, start complaining about a lack of economic growth, and when New York State's new Governor Cuomo starts talking about "property tax relief," understand that this is code for "we'll take care of our friends who own the choice urban sites, the ordinary man be damned!" This is called conservatism. Like Aleve, it works for them. Does "landed gentry" still resonate?
Notice that this study has been around for two years now. How many times have you heard about it? (It was news to me.) Even the "FairTax" (23%+ consumption tax) folks haven't mentioned it, as far as I know.
<p><a title="Do tax structures affect aggregate economic growth? Empirical evidence from a panel of OECD countries" href="http://www.oecd.org/LongAbstract/0,3425,en_2649_34325_41487020_119684_1_1_37443,00.html">Do tax structures affect aggregate economic growth? Empirical evidence from a panel of OECD countries</a>.</p> <blockquote cite="http://www.oecd.org/LongAbstract/0,3425,en_2649_34325_41487020_119684_1_1_37443,00.html"><strong>Do tax structures affect aggregate economic growth? Empirical evidence from a panel of OECD countries </strong></blockquote> <blockquote cite="http://www.oecd.org/LongAbstract/0,3425,en_2649_34325_41487020_119684_1_1_37443,00.html">This paper examines the relationship between tax structures and economic growth by entering indicators of the tax structure into a set of panel growth regressions for 21 OECD countries, in which both the accumulation of physical and human capital are taken into account. </blockquote> <blockquote cite="http://www.oecd.org/LongAbstract/0,3425,en_2649_34325_41487020_119684_1_1_37443,00.html">The results of the analysis suggest that income taxes are generally associated with lower economic growth than taxes on consumption and property. More precisely, the findings allow the establishment of a ranking of tax instruments with respect to their relationship to economic growth. Property taxes, and particularly recurrent taxes on immovable property, seem to be the most growth-friendly, followed by consumption taxes and then by personal income taxes. Corporate income taxes appear to have the most negative effect on GDP per capita. </blockquote> <blockquote cite="http://www.oecd.org/LongAbstract/0,3425,en_2649_34325_41487020_119684_1_1_37443,00.html">These findings suggest that a revenue-neutral growth-oriented tax reform would be to shift part of the revenue base towards recurrent property and consumption taxes and away from income taxes, especially corporate taxes. There is also evidence of a negative relationship between the progressivity of personal income taxes and growth. </blockquote> <p style="padding-left: 30px;">All of the results are robust to a number of different specifications, including controlling for other determinants of economic growth and instrumenting tax indicators.</p> <p>The full study, 28 pages, is at <a href="http://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/displaydocumentpdf?cote=eco/wkp%282008%2951&doclanguage=en">http://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/displaydocumentpdf?cote=eco/wkp%282008%2951&doclanguage=en</a></p> <p>Readers of this blog will know that I favor shifting to a tax on land value, and eliminating the portion of the conventional property tax which falls on buildings and other improvements to land. But I'm fascinated that their analysis shows that even taxing buildings and other improvements to land, along with land value, is superior to taxing consumption or personal income or corporate income, in terms of the effects on economic growth.<br /> <br />So I'll leave you with this question: <strong>if we know that income taxes and consumption taxes discourage growth more than the conventional property tax does, in whose interest is it that we <em>not rely heavily on the property tax?</em> Cui bono?</strong></p> <p>Go to the root of the problem. Recognize who benefits from the status quo. They like the current system just fine, and will fund heavily efforts to conserve it.</p> <p>And when California (Proposition 13 forces reliance on wage and sales taxes to "protect" property owners) and other states, including soon Indiana, start complaining about a lack of economic growth, and when New York State's new Governor Cuomo starts talking about "property tax relief," understand that this is code for "we'll take care of our friends who own the choice urban sites, the ordinary man be damned!" This is called conservatism. Like Aleve, it works for them. Does "landed gentry" still resonate?</p> <p>Notice that this study has been around for two years now. How many times have <em>you </em>heard about it? (It was news to me.) Even the "FairTax" (23%+ consumption tax) folks haven't mentioned it, as far as I know.</p>
I came across an abstract for an article which I suspect, on 3rd reading, is a comparison of the FairTax with the current income tax with respect to opportunity in America.
I was excited by a couple of statements --
article proposes that the principal equity goal underlying a just
government is the creation of equal opportunities for all citizens to
achieve self realization, i.e. to maximize their potential. It
proposes, therefore, that a tax should be designed to achieve equal
opportunity for self realization as one of its principal goals. Viewing
equal opportunity for self realization as a design issue leads to the
identification of another principle that is foundational - the
promotion of democracy.
And disappointed by what I think is its favoring of the income tax. Yes, the income tax is vastly superior to the Boortz FairTax, which, I realized on my 3rd or 4th reading of the abstract, was only alternative under consideration.
I came across a piece entitled "Why Democrats should love the FairTax," written by Laurence J. Kotlikoff, a professor of economics at Boston University, an economic adviser to Mike Gravel and a consultant to FairTax.org.
I continue to be amazed how even economists, who should know better -- far better -- than to even think about a sales tax as a solution to anything, can be in favor of such an alternative.
I've heard it said that voting and paying taxes are two of the major sacraments of citizenship. Having spent a significant part of the past week working on the machinations of the latter for several different family members, I am weary of the sacramental qualities of income taxes. It isn't that I think taxes are a bad thing. But our current system of taxation is both fundamentally wrong and, having said that, unbelievably convoluted.
Most of the commentators I read and hear are only interested in simplifying the income tax. A few propose getting rid of the income tax and replacing it with a sales tax, which I regard as simpler, but nearly as evil as an income tax from a number of points of view. And that puts aside the question of whether the necessary rate for the so-called "FairTax" is 23% (or 30% in the way we're used to thinking of sales taxes) or closer to 60%, as I understand is more realistically the case.
One of my standing google alerts took me to an article on Florida taxes. On the comments pages, some people were proposing the FairTax as a good alternative to the current federal income tax. I ended up posting several comments in response to their statements, and thought I'd cross-post my comments here.