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.
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.
Friday night, PBS's NOW program had an excellent piece about Alabama's tax system. It featured three families from different parts of the income and property spectrum, and one of my heroes, Susan Pace Hamill. People whose income is below the federal poverty line pay income taxes in Alabama, and groceries carry sales taxes, at rates as high as 10% or 11%! But property taxes are low.
Have you noticed that the places where property taxes are high seem to be the best places to live, with the largest proportion of the children going on to attend 4-year colleges? Have you noticed that where property taxes are low, there is a great deal of poverty and poor schools and living situations that result in undereducated children? Which sort of place would you prefer to live in? Which sort would you like your grandchildren to grow up in? Your nieces and nephews to raise their children in? Should other people's children have anything less?
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.
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.
Now that the economic crunch is reaching those near the top of the
pyramid, there is finally a sense that the U.S. is facing a real crisis.
The article goes on to talk about the large group of "near-poor"
America -- the 60 million people who are "just one notch above the
official poverty line," with incomes that range from $20,000 to $40,000
for a family of four.
We have always gotten a distorted picture of how well Americans were
doing from politicians and the media. The U.S. has a population of 300
million. Thirty-seven million, many of them children, live in poverty.
Close to 60 million are just one notch above the official poverty line.
Americans live in households with annual incomes that range from
$20,000 to $40,000 for a family of four.
It is disgraceful that in a
nation as wealthy as the United States, nearly a third of the people
are poor or near-poor.
You can read the statistics, expressed in terms of income multiples of the Federal Poverty Guideline here. I think you'll find them moving.
It isn't that I don't agree there is a problem -- readers of this blog
likely know that -- but must point out that defining the problem
way, as the authors of "The Missing Class" do, misses the point that
$20,000 or $40,000 for a family of 4 in rural Alabama is very different from
$20,000 to $40,000 in New York City or San Francisco, or any of our other major
metropolitan areas, where the vast majority of us live. [See data about the cost of living in America's low-cost counties, and in America's major cities.]