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!
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
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!
A committee convened by former New York Governor Spitzer is looking at the Property Tax in NYS with an eye to capping it or providing so-called circuit breakers, in the form of a rebate from the state for any 70% of the residential (owner-occupied, first home) property tax that exceeds a certain percentage of a household's Adjusted Gross Income.
I'm pleased to share (with permission of the author) something that
appeared on a mailing list I subscribe to. The conversation was along
the lines of "how do we share the idea of land value taxation [a reform of the property tax] with people who are used to hating the property tax?"
Roy Langston wrote,
When I encounter the usual unreasoning hatred of property taxes, I just point out a few inconvenient truths, along these lines:
One of the things we hear about property taxes is that rising property taxes are driving poor widows on fixed incomes out of their lifetime homes -- and that therefore the property tax must be "reformed" or replaced by taxes which fall on other groups of citizens: e.g., workers, consumers.
Is this the direction we should go? Is the fact that some people live in places they can no longer afford a reason to make a major change in the tax most municipalities rely on?
LVTfan thinks otherwise. Yes, the property tax is in need of some reform, but it is fundamentally the best tax available to us.
The title for this post was prompted by an article in the NYT about
people not raised on farms deciding to become farmers, particularly in
places near large cities. It seems that local food was said to be the
answer to a number of questions. I'm generally in favor of it, but I'm
not sure it is the answer to as many questions as its supporters
claim. That doesn't make "local food" a bad thing; just not the answer
to as many questions as it might seem.
But the title for this post sprang to mind. It seems to me that Land Value Taxation is the answer to a lot of very important questions.
By this, I mean fixing the problem of low wages -- wages
insufficient to support an individual or a family in conditions we
consider acceptable on a reasonable number of hours of labor per week.
I don't mean minimum wage legislation, or living wage legislation, both
of which I regard as well-intentioned but ultimately destructive for
the community they intend to help. I don't mean measures like the
Earned Income Tax Credit, either. It appears that people must jump
through high hoops to get those dollars (which often seems to require
professional advice, at a price), and then a significant portion of the
money goes not to the wage earner but to his tax preparer/advisor, in
the form of fees and interest.
I've heard this point made a couple of times recently, but
particularly liked the way Gail Collins expressed it in her recent
column, George Speaks, Badly:
Besides being incoherent, this is a perfect sign of an utterly phony
speech. Earmarks are one of those easy-to-attack Congressional
weaknesses, and in a perfect world, they would not exist. But they cost
approximately two cents in the grand budgetary scheme of things. Saying
you’re going to fix the economy or balance the budget by cutting out
earmarks is like saying you’re going to end global warming by banning
relative magnitude of earmarks relative to total federal spending or
total discretionary federal spending may be rather small. But earmarks
do have tremendous potential to do good locally. They can fund projects
that may not be feasible for local government to fund, which can
contribute mightily to local economic activity and economic rent.
The question, I think, is what happens AFTER the earmark project.
Will the local community that benefits from that federal spending
collect the benefit from the local residents who are benefited, or will
that benefit keep accruing to particular individuals, and continue to
be just a nice permanent federal gift to them?
Bob Herbert wrote, in his 3/11/08 column entitled "Sharing the Pain", in part,
The American dream is on life
support because men and women by the millions who want very much to
work — who still have in their heads the ideal of a thriving family in
a nice home with maybe a picket fence — are unable to find a decent job.
For years, families have been fighting weakness on the employment front
with every other option imaginable.
Wives and mothers have gone to work.
People have been putting in more hours and working additional
And Americans have plunged like Olympic diving champions into
every form of debt they could find.
Who has gotten the benefits of women spending many more years and many
more hours per year in the workplace? Who has benefited from
carrying more and more debt? How does this relate to the run-up
price of housing? I said I'd write about these issues in
another post. This is it.
A front-page article in the 3/8/08 Charlotte (County, FL) Sun entitled "Not Affordable Enough" speaks to some interesting and important issues regarding Florida's housing. A few excerpts:
The current downturn in residential real estate
sales has created the closest thing to a buyer's market Florida has
seen since the 1990s.
While that might be great news for a Northern couple looking to retire
in Punta Gorda or Port Charlotte with their life savings, Charlotte
County's median home price -- about $175,000 according to recent
Florida Association of Realtors figures -- is still a barrier for many
local wage earners ...
Despite North Port's reputation as a haven for working families, the
median sale price in the Sarasota-Bradenton market remains about
Referring to recent problems in the housing market,
"It's a blip on the screen really, and in a
year, we're going to be thankful that we did some investing in
affordable housing," said Ron Thomas, executive director of Enterprise
Punta Gorda, the city's economic development bureau. "When everybody
says that there's plenty of affordable housing, we have to qualify that
by saying that there is plenty of affordable housing for people who are
in the 80 percent or above the median income. This doesn't have any
positive effect for anybody in the 30 to 80 percent median income
"Even as low as (housing) has come down, it still might not suit
firefighters, police, and school teachers. They're still struggling,"
said Bill Albers, Punta Gorda city councilman. Albers is the council's
liaison to the Punta Gorda Housing Authority.
An important question, and one whose significance relatively few of
us understand. Many are not even familiar with the term "land rent."
Land rent is the annual value of a particular piece of land. Quick
and dirty, it can be estimated at about 5% of the selling value of the
land part of the property. It is a value created not by the individual
or corporate titleholder, but by the community. Land has no value
until more than one party wants to use it (or wants to speculate in
I live in a small city within easy commuting distance of New York
City. It includes some lovely waterfront communities (with property
values to match), a downtown with many corporations, a 1- and 2-acre
zone, neighborhoods that include children who collectively speak 30 or more
different languages and many whose families live below the "self-sufficiency level", multiple high schools, a few magnet schools.
There are a number of subdivisions which have some common property,
and it turns out that the local assessor has been very generous with
them. Is this legitimate, or is it a privilege (private law, for the
benefit of a few at the expense of the rest of the community)? I
can't see how it is anything but a privilege, a free lunch for special
people. (To which I say, eschew privilege!!)
I'll start with the waterfront communities. There are several of
them. Within one, there are are several private associations. No
gates, no signs, except the "no trespassing" signs on their private
beaches; other than the beach signs and the real estate ads, which
invariably mention "deeded beach rights," they don't seem any different
from other streets on their peninsula. But each of the three
sub-neighborhoods has some private property on the waterfront.