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Land Value Taxation: Rebuttals to Common Objections

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For those unfamiliar with the issue of land value taxation, please see the following two introductory articles:



What is Land Value Taxation?

Land Value Taxation is a method of raising public revenue by means of an annual charge on the rental value of land.

Although described as a tax, it is not really a tax at all, but a payment for benefits received. It would replace, not add to, existing taxes.

Properly applied, Land Value Tax would support a whole range of social and economic initiatives, including housing, transport and other infrastructural investments. It is an elementary fiscal measure that would go far towards correcting fundamental economic and social ills.

The value of every parcel of land in Britain would be assessed regularly and the land value tax levied as a percentage of those assessed values.

"Land" means the site alone, not counting any improvements. The value of buildings, crops, drainage or any other works which people have erected or carried out on each plot of land would be ignored, but it would be assumed that all neighbouring properties were developed as at the time of the valuation; other things being equal, a vacant site in a row of houses would be assessed at the same value as the adjacent sites occupied by houses.

The valuation would be based on market evidence, in accordance with the optimum use of the land within the planning regulations. If the current planning restrictions on the use were altered, the site would be reassessed.

The advantages...

*  A NATURAL SOURCE OF PUBLIC REVENUE. All land makes its full contribution to the Exchequer, allowing reductions in existing taxes on labour and enterprise.

*  A STRONGER ECONOMY. If we tax labour, buildings or machinery and plant, we discourage people from constructive and beneficial activities and penalise enterprise and efficiency. The reverse is the case with a tax on land values, which is payable regardless of whether or how well the land is actually used. It is a payment, based on current market value, for the exclusive occupation of a piece of land. In the longer term, this fundamentally new and different approach to revenue raising will stimulate new business and new employment, reducing the need for costly government welfare.

*  MARGINAL AREAS REVITALISED. Economic actitivities are handicapped by distance from the major centres of population. Conventional taxes such as VAT and those on transport fuels cause particular damage to the remoter areas of the country. Land Value Tax, by definition, bears lightly or not at all where land has little or no value, thereby stimulating economic activity away from the centre - it creates what are in effect tax havens exactly where they are most needed.

*  A MORE EFFICIENT LAND MARKET. The necessity to pay the tax obliges landowners to develop vacant and under-used land properly or to make way for others who will.

*  LESS URBAN SPRAWL. Land Value Taxation deters speculative land holding. Thus dilapidated inner-city areas are returned to good use, reducing the pressure for building on green-field sites.

*  LESS BUREAUCRACY. The complexities of Income Tax, Inheritance Tax, Capital Gains Tax and VAT are well known. By contrast, Land Value Tax is straightforward. Once the system has settled down, landholders will not be faced with complicated forms and demands for information. Revaluation will become relatively simple.

*  NO AVOIDANCE OR EVASION. Land cannot be hidden, removed to a tax haven or concealed in an electronic data system.

*  AN END TO BOOM-SLUMP CYCLES. Speculation in land value - frequently misrepresented and disguised as "property" or "asset" speculation - is the root cause of unsustainable booms which result periodically in damaging corrective slumps. Land Value Taxation, fully and properly applied, knocks the speculative element out of land pricing.

*  IMPOSSIBLE TO PASS ON IN HIGHER PRICES, LOWER WAGES OR HIGHER RENTS. Competition makes it impossible for a business producing goods on a valuable site to charge more per item than one producing similar goods on less valuable land - after all, producers and traders at different locations are paying different rents to landlords now, yet like goods generally sell for much the same price and employers pay their workers comparable wages. The tax cannot be passed on to a tenant who is already paying the full market rent.



The Single Tax: What It Is and Why We Urge It

by Henry George

An article published in The Christian Advocate in 1890 and thereafter reprinted in various magazines in the United Stated and England.

I shall briefly state the fundamental principles of what we who advocate it call the Single Tax.

We propose to abolish all taxes save one single tax levied on the value of land, irrespective of the value of the improvements in or on it.

What we propose is not a tax on real estate, for real estate includes improvements. Nor is it a tax on land, for we would not tax all land, but only land having a vaue irrespective of its improvements, and would tax that in proportion to that value.

Our plan involves the imposition of no new tax, since we already tax land values in taxing real estate. To carry it out we have only to abolish all taxes save the tax on real estate, and to abolish all of that which now falls on buildings or improvements, leaving only that part of it which now falls on the value of the bare land, increasing that so as to take as nearly as may be the whole of economic rent, or what is sometimes styled the “unearned increment of land values.”

That the value of the land alone would suffice to provide all needed public revenues—municipal, county, State, and national—there is no doubt.

To show briefly why we urge this change, let me treat (1) of its expediency, and (2) of its justice.



Below, in no particular order, are common objections to land value taxation, with rebuttals by me to each one:

Isn't land ownership the foundation of property rights, and thus of a free society?

No, self-ownership is. That is to say, the foundation of property rights (and the freedom which flows from those rights) is the property each person has in himself and, by extension, in the fruits his labor.

"Though the earth, and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself."
-- John Locke, 2nd Treatise of Government, Ch. 5

"The property which every man has in his own labour, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable."
-- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch. 10, Pt 2

"The property rights that each citizen has in himself are the foundation of a free society."
-- James Bovard, Freedom In Chains, p. 86

"Libertarianism begins with self ownership."
-- David Bergland, Libertarianism In One Lesson, 7th ed., p. 35

"There is only one fundamental right (all others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action--which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life…Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life."
-- Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, pp. 321-2

"The right of life and liberty--that is to say, the right of the man to himself--is not really one right and the right of property another right. They are two aspects of the same perception--the right of property being but another side, a differently stated expression, of the right of man to himself. The right of life and liberty, and the right of the individual to himself, presupposes and involves the right of property, which is the exclusive right of the individual to the things his exertion has produced."
-- Henry George, A Perplexed Philosopher, p. 210

Won’t the land value tax (LVT) make all land the "property" of the government (and thereby make us all "serfs" of the government)?

No, because the government will have no authority to dictate when, how, or by whom land itself is used; it will have only the authority to ensure that the rent of land goes to everyone on an equal basis, since all individuals have an equal right of access to land.

Henry George puts it this way on page 8 of The Condition of Labor:

“We do not propose to assert equal rights to land by keeping land common, letting any one use any part of it at any time. We do not propose the task, impossible in the present day of society, of dividing land in equal shares; still less the yet more impossible task of keeping it so divided.

We propose—leaving land in the private possession of individuals, with full liberty on their part to give, sell or bequeath it--simply to levy on it for public uses a tax that shall equal the annual value of the land itself, irrespective of the use made of it or the improvements on it....We would accompany this tax on land values with the repeal of all taxes now levied on the products and processes of industry--which taxes, since they take from the earnings of labor, we hold to be infringements of the right of property.”
The only alternative to George's proposal is to treat land as the unconditional property of a mere subset of the population. The problem with this alternative is that, when taken to its logical conclusion, we find that the fruits of individual labor must inevitably be treated as conditional property for everyone else. Why? Because no one can produce wealth in the first place unless he or she first has access to land. Consequently, since all land is legally occupied, and since producing more land isn't an option, those who don't have titles to land cannot legally access the earth -- and thus cannot legally sustain their own lives -- unless they first "consent" to pay a portion of their earnings to those who do have titles to land. (This is why geolibertarians regard landed property as the “mother of all entitlements.”)

Land itself does not originate from labor; thus, "property" in land does not originate from labor, but from the law that confers ownership to an individual or group. Landed property is therefore -- in the words of Albert Jay Nock -- “law-made property,” and hence fundamentally distinct from “labor-made property.”

To compel a non-privileged subset of the population to pay rent to a privileged subset for mere access to the earth is therefore to elevate law-made property above labor-made property. And since the latter is an extension of self-ownership, to elevate the former above the latter is to strike a blow at the very foundation of property rights:

"Disregard of the equal right to land necessarily involves violations of the unequal right to wealth."
-- Max Hirsch, Democracy vs. Socialism, p. 372
To this some might object that the LVT does just that -- compels one group to pay rent to another group for mere access to the earth. While this objection may sound logical at first, it is fatally flawed. Why? Because it ignores a universal law of today's economy: the fact that land rent gets paid either way – regardless of whether or not it gets diverted into the public treasury.

Thus, it is not a question of “if” land rent gets paid, but to whom and on what basis.

If it is paid exclusively to titleholders on the basis of the earth on which all must live yet which none produced being the exclusive, unconditional property of those titleholders, then, for reasons given above, the property that non-titleholders have in themselves and in the fruits of their labor is thereby violated. If, on the other hand, it is paid to the community on the basis of the individual members of that community each having an equal right to land, then said property right (the right to one's self and the fruits of one's labor) is thereby upheld for everyone -- both titleholder and non-titleholder alike.

Another common objection is that, if government taxes the economic “rent” of land, it automatically becomes the owner of land. This objection is based on the myth that the terms "rent collector" and "owner" are synonymous. While many rent collectors do, indeed, own the property on which they collect rent, there are, nevertheless, thousands of private rental agents and property managers all over the country who routinely collect rent on properties they do not own. Thus, one does not have to be an "owner" to be a "rent collector."  Government is no exception to this rule.

That doesn't mean the government of, say, North Korea does not assert ownership over the land on which it collects rent. It does. But it is not merely the authority to collect land rent, but the authority to dictate how land is used, that makes the North Korean government an "owner" of land. Critics of the LVT repeatedly insist that you can't have one authority without the other, but as mentioned above, the rent-collection services provided by non-owning rental agents and property managers prove just the opposite.

This becomes easier to understand once you realize that "property" refers, not to a single right, but to a bundle of rights -- the right to rental income being only one of them. The other rights include the right to possess, use, exclude, and transfer title. As any lawyer will tell you, those rights can be transferred in whole or in part.

"The concept of a bundle of rights comes from old English law. In the middle ages, a seller transferred property by giving the purchaser a handful of earth or a bundle of bound sticks from a tree on the property. The purchaser, who accepted the bundle, then owned the tree from which the sticks came and the land to which the tree was attached. Because the rights of ownership (like the sticks) can be separated and individually transferred, the sticks became symbolic of those rights."
-- Fillmore W. Galaty, Wellington J. Allaway, & Robert C. Kyle, Modern Real Estate Practice, 14th ed., p. 16
This is precisely why, in the U.S., it is possible for city councilmen to collect a portion of land rent through property tax levies, yet be lawfully excluded from the land itself by whoever holds title to that land. Although the local government in this case has a legal right to a certain percentage of the land's rental value, the titleholder has all the other rights of the aforementioned "bundle." 

Not only will the titleholder retain those rights under a geolibertarian system, those rights will be strengthened by (a) the fact that he will no longer be taxed for being productive, thus making it far easier for him to afford whatever the rental charge is, and (b) the fact that the law will require any and all surplus revenue to be distributed equally as a Citizen’s Dividend. (The latter will provide a built-in incentive for citizens to bring enormous pressure to bear on government to limit its spending, since less wasteful spending will mean a greater surplus, and thus a higher dividend.)

Since people need food to sustain their lives, and since food, like land, is in limited supply, could not the same argument for taxing the value of land be used to justify taxing the value of food?

No, because (a) while food is in "limited" supply, it is not in fixed supply; and (b) with food starvation is not the only alternative to purchasing it from others, whereas with land it is.

With food, one can always produce instead of buy. Not so with land. Some might counter that one can always produce to earn the wages needed to acquire land, but this presupposes the very issue in question – access to land. While it is true people can always acquire land by earning the wages needed to rent or purchase it, one cannot earn wages to begin with unless one first has access to land, which brings us right back where we started.

Food is a product of labor; land is not. Thus, the notion that one has an exclusive right to the fruits of one’s labor is incompatible with the notion that there is a common right to the value of those fruits, while it is not incompatible with the notion that there is a common right to the value of land.

Won’t the LVT increase the price of land the way sales taxes increase the price of consumer goods?

No, just the opposite.

As Henry George explains here, in order for a tax to drive up the price of something, it must either decrease supply or increase demand. Does the LVT decrease the supply of land? No, because the supply of land is fixed. Thus, the only way it can increase the price is by increasing demand. Yet not even those who oppose the LVT argue that it increases demand, so it follows that the LVT does not increase the price of land, since it neither decreases supply nor increases demand.

In fact, it actually lowers the price of land by reducing the amount of privately pocketed rent that can be capitalized into a sale price.

Expressed in mathematical terms, the price of land p equals the annual rent r divided by the interest rate i, or:

                            p = r / i

If there is a tax rate t on the price of land p, then p equals the rent divided by the sum of the interest rate and the offsetting tax rate, or:

                            p = r / (i + t)

Thus, if the rent is $1,000, the interest rate is 10%, and the tax rate 40%, then the price would be 1,000/(.10 + .40), or $2,000. Without the tax, the price would be 80% higher -- $10,000. (More on this here and here.)

This is why there is no long-term benefit to cutting the LVT, because people in general, and the working poor in particular, end up paying back in higher rents and land prices what they presumably get from the tax cut. (The working poor of California had to find this out the hard way after the passage of Proposition 13.)

Unfortunately, because the property tax fuses the tax on land values with the tax on improvements, people have a tendency to equate one with the other, and thus falsely assume that a lower tax on land value yields the same benefits as a lower tax on improvements. It in fact has the opposite effect. A lower tax on improvements rewards people for putting land to productive use, which means more jobs and higher wages; a lower tax on land value rewards people for holding land out of use, which means less jobs and lower wages.

Single Tax advocate, Robert De Fremery, had this to say on the subject:

"At the opposite extreme of the claim that land value taxation is wrong because landholders would be the only ones paying taxes is the claim that landholders would be paying no taxes at all. It is claimed that they would merely raise their rents in proportion to the increase in taxes falling on their lands. But this is one thing all reputable economists agree can not be done. If site A (land only) in the heart of a city is worth $1,000 per month to whoever uses it, while site B (land only) on the outskirts of the city is worth only $100.00 per month, then site A is worth only $900.00 more per month than is site B. A change in the amount of taxes falling on these two landholders cannot affect the relative value of these sites. Suppose, for example, that an attempt were made to get $2,000 and $200.00 per month respectively for these two sites just because each landholder were required to pay taxes of $1,000 and $100.00 respectively to the city. Obviously, the tenants in site A would move to lower cost land. Site A is not worth $1,800 more per month than site B. If it were, the landholder would be getting it in today's market. Although a tax on land values affects the price of land, it cannot affect its rental value. There is no disagreement among professional economists on this point."
-- Rights vs. Privileges, pp. 38-39

Isn’t the LVT based on Karl Marx's labor theory of value?

No. Karl Marx’s labor theory of value asserts that the exchange value of something is determined by the labor expended to produce it. Henry George flat-out rejected this view:

"It is never the amount of labor that has been exerted in bringing a thing into being that determines its value, but always the amount of labor that will be rendered in exchange for it."-- The Science of Political Economy, p. 253
Why, then, do some mistakenly identify Marx's labor theory of value as being one of the core premises of the LVT? Because many LVT advocates often describe land value as being created by the community, and, in so doing, sacrifice clarity for brevity. What they actually mean is this: It's not that members of the surrounding community create land value itself, but that they create (or rather “produce”) the goods and services which give rise to that value.

As any real estate appraiser will tell you, the value of land is the value of “location.” And what determines the value of location? The degree to which people in the surrounding marketplace compete for access to that location, due primarily to the proximity it affords to such things as nearby schools, libraries, hospitals, parks, shopping malls, etc. -- all of which are provided mostly if not entirely by people other than the individual titleholder.

Hence Max Hirsch’s conclusion that:

"The value of labour-products is the measure of the service which their rightful owner has rendered to the community. The value of land is the measure of the service which the community is expected to render to the owners of land."-- Democracy vs. Socialism, p. 348
And hence Robert De Fremery’s observation that:

“The difference between publicly created and privately created values, once seen, is never forgotten. Both result from the competitive bidding within society for the right to consume or use something. But it is of utmost significance that privately created values result from competitive bidding for goods and services produced by man, whereas publicly created values result from competitive bidding for something no man produced--the land upon which we live and work and whose value increases as the community in which it is located grows. In the one case men are bidding for goods and services produced by each other as private individuals. In the other men are bidding for the important right to use part of the earth's surface. In the one case you have privately created values. In the other you have a publicly created value.”-- Rights vs. Privileges, p. 22

Isn't the LVT based on the Marxist idea that the right to land is a collective right?

No, it is based on the Lockean idea that the right to land is an equal right.

By that I mean: the idea that an individual has "property" in land only to the extent that there is, in the words of John Locke, "enough, and as good left in common for others."  In that sense, the right to land is not a collective right, but an individual right that exists independently of the collective (i.e., society). The “equality” of this right is merely a limitation that arises from the presence of others with like rights.

By contrast, a collective right to land dictates that an individual has no right to use any land unless society has granted him such right.

With the equal right to land, one does not require the consent of society to use land. The right to the use of land belongs at birth to each individual. So while the consent of others is not needed, it is, nevertheless, necessary that in the exercise of that right, one does not infringe upon the equal right of others -- i.e., violate Locke's proviso that there be "enough, and as good left in common for others." And since the rental value of land provides an accurate measure of the extent to which said proviso has been violated, "others" should be compensated in accordance with that value.


At the same time, of course, taxes on wages, sales, houses and capital goods should all be abolished, since they violate the exclusive right that each individual has to the fruits of his own labor.

It is, of course, an age-old tradition among royal libertarians to rail self-righteously against the notion that all individuals have an "equal" right to land (and hence to its rental value). Yet what they either fail to realize or refuse to admit to is that, in so doing, they are rejecting (in effect) the most fundamental "property right" of all -- that of self-ownership -- because one cannot even be a "self" in the first place unless one occupies a naturally-occurring geographic location on the globe.

In short, to "be" is to be -- "somewhere."

Thus, assuming everyone agrees with Michael Badnarik when -- in his book, Good to be King -- he defines a "right" as "something you can do without asking for permission," it follows that, whenever anyone suggests or implies that only those with land titles have a "right" of access to the earth on which all must live yet which none produced, that person is essentially saying that the countless millions without land titles have no "right" to life itself.

"Place one hundred men on an island from which there is no escape, and whether you make one of these men the absolute owner of the other ninety-nine, or the absolute owner of the soil of the island, will make no difference either to him or to them.

"In the one case, as the other, the one will be the absolute master of the ninety-nine--his power extending even to life and death, for simply to refuse them permission to live upon the island would be to force them into the sea.

"Upon a larger scale, and through more complex relations, the same cause must operate in the same way and to the same end--the ultimate result, the enslavement of laborers, becoming apparent just as the pressure increases which compels them to live on and from land which is treated as the exclusive property of others. Take a country in which the soil is divided among a number of proprietors, instead of being in the hands of one, and in which, as in modern production, the capitalist has been specialized from the laborer, and manufacturers and exchange, in all their many branches, have been separated from agriculture. Though less direct and obvious, the relations between the owners of the soil and the laborers will, with the increase of population and the improvement of the arts, tend to the same absolute master on the one hand and the same abject helplessness on the other, as in the case of the island we have supposed. Rent will advance, while wages will fall."-- Henry George, Progress and Poverty, pp. 347-8
That, incidentally, is largely why I regard the Austrian School's aristocratic concept of "liberty" to be a sick joke.

“The Austrian School came into existence when a bunch of Viennese rent-gouging landlords didn’t want rent control on the rents they could gouge out of their tenants in old Vienna, so they hired a bunch of scribblers--and that’s the Austrian School.”-- Webster Tarpley, World Crisis Radio broadcast, 9/27/08, 1st hour

Isn't the very concept of taxing land values rooted in Marxism?

No, it's rooted in classical liberalism, which long predates Marx.

The right-wing reactionaries who blindly insist otherwise are -- whether they realize it or not, and whether they have the intellectual honesty to admit it or not -- essentially accusing many of the Founding Fathers of being Marxists:



Why America's Founders Wanted a Property Tax on Land Value, And NOT a Sales Tax!

Why a Land Value Tax?

Land for ordinary citizens

William Penn wanted to keep aristocrats from grabbing up land as they had in Europe. He declared Pennsylvania a "commonwealth" where each landholder would pay a modest rent that "would put an end to taxes, leave not a beggar, and make the greatest bank for national trade." The first tax in Pennsylvania was a land value tax.

Thomas Jefferson also saw that land monopoly made ordinary Europeans poor, while cheap land made Americans rich. He also proposed taxes on real estate to prevent land grabbers from driving land prices up.

Keeping taxing power local

Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government taxed each state on its land value. Each state would tax each county, and citizens would never have to deal with state or federal tax collectors. Our founders did not trust strong central governments. They believed that people govern their own communities better than powerful states can govern them.



Isn't concentrated ownership of land moral and just, so long as it's the result of "voluntary" transactions?

No, because if only some people "own" the earth, then only some have a "right" to live upon it.

All individuals must have access to the earth in order to exercise their right to sustain their own lives. Thus, to allow the earth to become the unconditional property of a relative few is to deny this right to everyone else, since it makes the latter obligated at birth to pay the former for mere access to the planet -- as if the former were responsible for the earth’s very existence.

While the private appropriation of land rent may seem harmless at a micro-level, at a macro-level it constitutes an entitlement scheme whereby Group A receives payment from Group B, even though Group A renders no service in return. In that sense, it violates the fundamental right that the members of Group B have to the fruits of their own labors.
"As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed."-- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch. 6“Given a stationary population and private ownership of all land, improvements in manufacturing methods do not, in the long-run, increase the earnings of labour and capital, but are absorbed by rent.”-- Max Hirsch, Democracy vs. Socialism, p. 446"I am using the word wages not in the sense of a quantity, but in the sense of proportion. When I say that wages fall as rent rises, I do not mean that the quantity of wealth obtained by laborers as wages is necessarily less, but that the proportion which it bears to the whole produce is necessarily less. The proportion may diminish while the quantity remains the same or even increases."-- Henry George, Progress and Poverty, p. 216
If some people fail to see this, it is because they, in the words of Henry Hazlitt, "overlook the woods in their precise and minute examination of particular trees." In this case they overlook the effect that the private appropriation of land rent has on the economy as a whole in their precise and minute examination of particular transactions, and how these transactions benefit particular individuals or groups. Overall, the payment of land rent to the few at the expense of the many imposes on the latter artificially high costs of living, on the one hand, and artificially low wages, on the other.

To learn more about why the current land market is anything but "voluntary," read the following article by Fred Foldvary:


As a general rule, taxation is wrong since it involves the use of force. Is a tax on land rent an exception to this?

Yes, for the simple reason that "force," as such, is neither good nor bad. If used to defend one's person or property from aggressors, or to enforce payment of a rightful debt, it is a good thing. If used to harm the person or property of a non-consenting other, or to enforce payment of a wrongful debt, it is a bad thing.

A tax on wages or capital-goods returns implies that the income one receives in return for the exertion of one's labor or the use of one's capital goods belongs (at least in part) to others. This conflicts with the basic libertarian principle that you have an exclusive right to the fruits of your labor.

A tax on land rent (or "rent" for short) implies that the income one receives for the value of the land one holds belongs to others. Since land itself (a) is not the fruit of anyone's labor, and (b) is that to which all have an equal right of access; and since the rent of land (a) is not a return to either labor or capital goods, and (b) reflects the extent to which Locke's proviso has been violated, a "tax" on rent does not conflict with the principle that you have an exclusive right to the fruits of your labor, but is in fact a just and necessary means of upholding that right.

Thus, the part of one's income that is taken via the taxation of wages, sales, houses and capital goods constitutes the enforcement of a wrongful debt, whereas the part of one's income that is taken via the taxation of rent constitutes the enforcement of a rightful debt.

As Henry George puts it on page 46 of Property In Land: "As to what constitutes robbery, it is...the taking or withholding from another of that which rightfully belongs to him. That which rightfully belongs to him, be it observed, not that which legally belongs to him." [Emphasis original]

Still, right-wing critics will argue, a tax on rent involves the use of force, and is therefore wrong. The problem with this argument becomes evident when they are presented with the scenario of a tenant no longer able to pay a titleholder for the value of the land he is using, and then asked whether or not it would be legitimate to use force to remove the tenant from the titleholder's land. They typically answer “yes” to this question, and when pressed for an explanation, finally concede that yes, there is such a thing as a legitimate use of force when it comes to upholding a rightful debt.

The dispute, then, is not over whether force, in and of itself, is right or wrong, but whether the debt in question is right or wrong -- i.e., whether or not the taxation of land rent conflicts with the libertarian principle that each person has property in himself and, by extension, in the fruits of his labor. Geolibertarians hold that it does not so conflict, since land rent, as mentioned before, is not a return to either labor or capital goods.

Land rent (as the term obviously implies) is in fact a return to land -- meaning the percentage of one's income one could receive simply by renting out the land one holds to someone else. Yet to whom does land’s rental value rightfully belong?  Since this value derives, not from what the individual titleholder does, but from the growth and activity of the surrounding community -- and since it reflects the extent to which "others" are denied access to land they wish to use, and to which they have an equal right of access -- it follows that this value is rightfully owed to these others, while wrongfully owed to titleholders.

In that fundamental sense, the LVT is not a fee for using land, but a fee for the government-enforced privilege of denying use of that land to everyone else. The more valuable the privilege, the higher the fee. That's why it's called the benefits received principle, and hence why the upper and upper-middle class titleholders who rail hysterically against the LVT are essentially saying that (double standard alert!) they should not be required to pay for the benefits they receive, but that working class non-titleholders should be required to pay -- not once, but twice -- for the benefits they receive. 

Won’t the LVT make it more difficult to acquire land, especially for poor people?

No, because land rent, as explained earlier, gets paid either way -- regardless of whether or not it gets diverted into the public treasury.

Even when you pay the sale price of land, you are paying land rent, since the sale price is simply capitalized rent (i.e., the rental value divided by the interest rate). And since land is fixed in both supply and location, decreases in land value taxation are invariably capitalized by titleholders into higher rents and land prices. Thus, people in general, and the working poor in particular, end up paying back in higher rents and land prices what they presumably get from the tax cut; and pay back even more in terms of (a) a lower margin of production (and thus lower pre-tax wages), and (b) a heavier reliance on wage and sales taxes. 

So, once again, it is not a question of if land rent gets paid, but to whom and on what basis -- to a mere subset of the population, on the basis of the earth on which all must live yet which none produced being exclusively "owned" by that subset; or to everyone equally, on the basis of the earth being that to which all have an equal right of access? Georgists and geolibertarians believe it should be the latter, since that is the only just and practical way of establishing true equality of opportunity without enforcing “equality of outcome” in the process.

As for the poor people that right-wing ideologues, limousine liberals and foundation-funded poverty pimps all laughingly profess to care so much about, the LVT will actually make it much easier for them to acquire land, since it will (a) greatly reduce the “rack-renting” to which land speculation invariably gives rise, and (b) dramatically increase wages both by raising the margin of production and by reducing (and eventually eliminating) the need for either wage or sales taxes.

Won’t the LVT discourage production?

No, because the value of land has no reference to a cost of production; it is purely a function of demand.

This, among other things, led Adam Smith to conclude that:

“Both ground-rents and the ordinary rent of land are a species of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own. Though a part of this revenue should be taken from him in order to defray the expenses of the state, no discouragement will thereby be given to any sort of industry....Ground-rents and the ordinary rent of land are, therefore, perhaps, the species of revenue which can best bear to have a peculiar tax imposed upon them."
-- The Wealth of Nations, Bk 5, Ch. 2, Pt 1
Nobel prize-winning economist, Paul A. Samuelson, reached the same conclusion roughly two centuries later:

“The striking result is that a tax on rent will lead to no distortions or economic inefficiencies. Why not? Because a tax on pure economic rent does not change anyone's behavior. Demanders are unaffected because their price is unchanged. The behavior of suppliers is unaffected because the supply of land is fixed and cannot react. Hence, the economy operates after the tax exactly as it did before the tax--with no distortions or inefficiencies arising as a result of the land tax."
-- Economics, 16th ed., p. 250
What is even more "striking" is that Samuelson's remarks are only half-true. Not only will a tax on rent lead to no distortions or economic inefficiencies, it will actually stimulate the economy by (a) lowering the entrance barrier into the marketplace (the “entrance barrier” being speculative rents and land prices), and (b) encouraging much more efficient use of land within that marketplace. A well-documented case in point is the overall success of the "split rate" property tax (whereby land values are uptaxed and improvements proportionately downtaxed) in over a dozen localities throughout Pennsylvania:


It is the taxation of the other two factors of production -- labor and capital goods -- that penalizes and discourages production. Thus, it follows that the more we shift the tax burden off those two factors and onto land values, the more prosperous the economy will be overall.

Henry George put it this way:

“To abolish that taxation which, acting and reacting, now hampers every wheel of exchange and presses upon every form of industry, would be like removing an immense weight from a powerful spring. Imbued with fresh energy, production would start into new life, and trade would receive a stimulus which would be felt to the remotest arteries. The present method of taxation... operates upon energy, and industry, and skill, and thrift, like a fine upon those qualities. If I have worked harder and built myself a good house while you have been contented to live in a hovel, the taxgatherer now comes annually to make me pay a penalty for my energy and industry, by taxing me more than you. If I have saved while you wasted, I am mulct, while you are exempt. If a man build a ship we make him pay for his temerity, as though he had done an injury to the state; if a railroad be opened, down comes the tax collector upon it, as though it were a public nuisance; if a manufactory be erected we levy upon it an annual sum which would go far toward making a handsome profit. We say we want capital, but if any one accumulate it, or bring it among us, we charge him for it as though we were giving him a privilege. We punish with a tax the man who covers barren fields with ripening grain, we fine him who puts up machinery, and him who drains a swamp....

“To abolish these taxes would be to lift the whole enormous weight of taxation from productive industry. The needle of the seamstress and the great manufactory; the cart horse and the locomotive; the fishing boat and the steamship; the farmer's plow and the merchant's stock, will be alike untaxed....Instead of saying to the producer, as it does now, ‘The more you add to the general wealth the more shall you be taxed!’ the state would say to the producer, ‘Be as industrious, as thrifty, as enterprising as you choose, you shall have your full reward! You shall not be fined for making two blades of grass grow where one grew before; you shall not be taxed for adding to the aggregate wealth.’”
-- Progress & Poverty, pp. 434-5

There are some who still insist that the LVT will discourage production since the value of land cannot be separated from the value of houses, buildings and other improvements. Is that true?

No, it has long been common practice in the real estate industry to assess land separately from improvements:

"Land value represents the present market value of the land. It does not include the value of improvements. Land value is arrived at through an analysis of current sales of comparable land in the general area. It is computed separately because land is not depreciable."
-- William L. Ventolo, Jr., Ralph Tamper & Wellington J. Allaway, Mastering Real Estate Mathematics, p. 115
The only people on the entire planet who blindly insist otherwise are brainwashed Austrian School types.

Some people claim there are documented examples of land being produced. Doesn't this refute the idea that land is in fixed supply?

No. Those who claim otherwise are confusing two different senses of the word land. In the every day sense, land usually refers merely to the dry surface of the earth; in the economic sense, however, it refers not just to the dry surface of the earth, but to the entire material universe -- excluding humans and their products. In other words, land is not merely matter that occupies space; it is space. While matter can certainly be manipulated within that space, space itself cannot be added to or subtracted from. This is precisely why the value of "land" is often and more accurately described as the value of "location."

"The essential feature of land is that its quantity is fixed and completely unresponsive to price."
--  Paul A. Samuelson & William D. Nordhaus, Economics, 16th ed., p. 248

"Land has no production cost; it is a 'free and nonreproducible gift of nature.'  The economy has only so much land, and that is that. Of course, within limits any parcel of land can be made more usable by clearing, drainage, and irrigation. But these are capital improvements and not changes in the amount of land itself."
-- Campbell R. McConnell & Stanley L. Brue, Economics, 14th ed., p. 604

"Land, which is the earth's surface, is immobile. It is true that some of the substances of land are removable and topography can be changed, but still that portion of the earth's surface always remains. The geographic location of any given parcel of land can never be changed. It is rigid and fixed."
-- Wade E. Gaddy & Robert E. Hart, Real Estate Fundamentals, 4th ed., p. 9

"Remember: No one is making any more land."
-- William H. Pivar, Real Estate Investing From A To Z, revised edition, p. 3

Won’t the LVT hurt farmers?

No, it will help farmers. In the first place, the LVT will fall primarily on urban land, not rural land, since land values are concentrated primarily in urban areas. In the second place, the increased cost of paying a higher tax on land values will be more than offset by (a) the savings incurred from paying lower taxes on everything else, (b) the reversal of urban sprawl (and thus of the inflationary pressure that sprawl has long imposed on the value of farmland), and (c) the increase in income that will result from both a higher margin of production and the resultant surge in overall economic activity.

For supportive empirical evidence, see the following:

For a more exhaustive treatment of the underlying principles, see:

       http://www.econlib.org/library/YPDBooks/George/grgPP38.html#Book IX, Chapter 3

Since labor products such as houses, cars and computers are all composed of matter, and since humans are no more the “creators” of matter than they are the “creators” of land, doesn’t it follow that humans don’t really “create” anything, and that LVT advocates are therefore wrong in saying there’s a fundamental distinction between “labor-made” property and “law-made” property?

Believe it or not, I’ve actually encountered this objection many times over the years. It exemplifies the sort of mental gymnastics to which royal libertarians routinely resort in their desperate attempt to justify economic free-riding by overprivileged landlords.

The objection is, of course, ridiculous on its face, because -- as any professional real estate appraiser will tell you -- land, by definition, exists independently of human exertion, whereas labor products (as the term itself implies) do not.

What makes houses, buildings and countless other labor products fundamentally different from land is not that people “create” those things, but that they produce them:

"We speak of productive work. What is productive work? We make things. How do we make them? Man does not create them. Man cannot create something out of nothing. All the things that we call making are producing; bringing forth, not creating.

"Men produce coal by going down under the ground, hewing out the coal, and bringing it to the surface of the earth; they produce fish by going to the lough, or river, or ocean and pulling the fish out; they produce houses by bringing together timber and stones and iron into the shape and form of a house; they produce cloth by taking the wool of a sheep or the fibers of a plant and bringing them together in a certain connection; they produce crops by opening the ground and putting in seed and leaving it there for the germinating influences of nature--always a bringing forth, never a creation, so that human exertion--that is to say labor upon land, is the only way that man has of bringing forth those things which his needs require and which are necessary to enable him to sustain life. Land and labor--these are the two necessary and indispensable factors to the production of wealth."-- Henry George, The Land for the People, paragraphs 4 & 5

Didn't Austrian economist Murray Rothbard refute the LVT?

No, but not for lack of trying. Rothbard's argument against the LVT is fatally flawed for at least two reasons -- one moral, the other economic. From a moral perspective, it completely ignores the unjust interference that the overextension of law-made property imposes on labor-made property. From an economic perspective, it is based on a false understanding of what conditions are necessary for land to have rental value.

In Libertarian Party at Sea on Land, LP activist Dr. Harold Kyriazi explains why Rothbard's attack on the LVT was misguided at best. The following is from pages 57-61 of that book (all emphasis original):


The only well-known libertarian writer whom I know to have explicitly, and at great length, opposed the idea of community collected user fees for natural resources is Murray Rothbard, which is odd, given his admiration for Albert Jay Nock and Frank Chodorov, who, in turn, revered Henry George. Rothbard apparently had extensive discussions with Georgists:

If every man owns his own person and therefore his own labor, and if by extension he owns whatever property he has "created" or gathered out of the previously unused, unowned "state of nature," then what of the last great question: the right to own or control the earth itself? ... It is at this point that Henry George and his followers, who have gone all the way so far with the libertarians, leave the track and deny the individual right to own the piece of land itself, the ground on which these activities have taken place. (pp. 33-34, For a New Liberty.)
The following is taken from his The Ethics of Liberty.

(p. 50, footnote 2): A modified variant of this "Columbus Complex" holds that the first discoverer of a new island or continent could properly lay claim to the entire continent by himself walking around it (or hiring others to do so), and thereby laying out a boundary for the area. In our view, however, their claim would still be no more than to the boundary itself, and not to any of the land within it, for only the boundary will have been transformed and used by man.
With this statement, Rothbard may seem to have carried the "first use" doctrine to its illogical extreme. (If walking over some land constitutes transformation and use, then is it just one's footprints that one owns? Or does one's rightful claim extend out to all the underbrush one has cleared away? Or, can one claim land as far as the eye can see? This is the very definition of the word "arbitrary.") But in his defense, to convert the claim into actual ownership would, Rothbard would say, require actual use (though we're again faced with the question of what constitutes "use" -- see p. 79, "Anti-Rothbard..."). For example, earlier, in a Robinson Crusoe paradigm, he stated that Crusoe's "true property--his actual control over material goods--would extend only so far as his actual labor brought them into production. His true ownership could not extend beyond the power of his own reach."

What, then, would Rothbard say about large American corporations owning, but not using, millions of acres of land, as some now do? He gives us his answer in an essay he wrote on Henry George's Land Value Tax idea, entitled "The Single Tax: Economic and Moral Implications" (FEE "Special Essay Series," 1957). Here are a few examples from that work:

Well, what about idle land? Should the sight of it alarm us? On the contrary, we should thank our stars for one of the great economic facts of nature: that labor is scarce relative to land...Since labor is scarce relative to land, and much land must therefore remain idle, any attempt to force all land into production would bring economic disaster. Forcing all land into use would take labor and capital away from more productive uses, and compel their wasteful employment on land, a disservice to consumers.
Of course, LVT would and could do no such thing, as those who strive to put idle land into productive use would have to bid against other land users for labor, and only the best uses of labor and land would win out. Thus, rather than forcing all land into use, LVT would discourage all but the most productive use of land, just as any market tends to allocate resources most wisely. Another thing that would happen is that the earnings of labor would increase due to increased competition for it, and (ideally) none of the produced wealth would go to landowners qua landowners. Let me rephrase Rothbard's last sentence in a way that makes sense: Forcing land users to pass over ideal idle land and utilize marginal land instead, is wasteful of human labor and natural opportunities, a disservice to all mankind and a boon only to landlords and land speculators.

But here's the most embarrassing passage:

A 100% tax on rent would cause the capital value of all land to fall promptly to zero.

Since owners could not obtain any net rent, the sites would become valueless on the market.
False! They'd be valueless only to those market participants who wish only to speculate in land, not to those who wish to use land in some productive endeavor.

From that point on, sites, in short, would be free.
Wrong again. While it's true there'd be no sale price for vacant land, one would still have to pay the ground-rent to use it.

Further, since all rent would be siphoned off to the government, there would be no incentive for owners to charge any rent at all.
Wrong yet again. He's assuming the LVT would be set by an actual ground-rent charged by the landlord, rather than being an assessed value that would have to be recouped. And, I might add, total rental costs would tend to decrease as additional units come on the market as the monopoly stranglehold on land loses its grip.

Rent would be zero as well, and rentals would thus be free.
He continues to pound a straw man.

The first consequence of the single tax, then, is that no revenue would accrue from it.
He took a wrong turn, and just keeps going!

Far from supplying all the revenue of government, the single tax would yield no revenue at all! For if rents are zero, a 100% tax on rents will also yield nothing.
Rothbard then goes on to state,

Compelling any economic goods to be free wreaks economic havoc...the result is to introduce complete chaos in land sites.
Completely false. Even if LVT were applied at a national level, and there were no competition among municipalities for residents, people would still bid on the leases of occupied property, providing price information. (For more on this, see p. 97, "How would LVT work?")

In Power and Market: Government and the Economy (second edition, 1977), Rothbard went even further into the realm of irrationality in his attempt to refute Georgist land theory (p. 131):

Contrary to Georgist doctrine, however, the land problem does not stem from free-market ownership of ground land.
I know of no Georgist who would ever use the phrase "free-market" in conjunction with our current, individual monopoly market in land.

It stems from failure to live up to a prime condition of free-market property rights, namely, that new, unowned land be first owned by its first user, and that from then on, it become the full private property of the first user or those who receive or buy the land from him.
It is an obvious fiction that any use, however small or large the effort, should grant full private ownership for all time, unless we're talking about a make-believe world with unlimited land where access to all of it is instantaneous (i.e., where travel time is zero). This fiction ignores the fact that someone who, for example, puts up a fence and lets a cow graze, is much less the rightful "owner" of land than one who builds an industrial plant or a shopping mall. (For more on this, see p. 79, "Anti-Rothbard...")


In his contribution to Critics of Henry George: Volume 2 (see Chapter 31 of that book), Dr. Kyriazi provides an even more devastating critique of Rothbard’s fallacy-ridden arguments against Henry George’s Single Tax.

See also the following article by Gene DeNardo:

       http://www.nolanchart.com/article6921.html (A Critique of Murray Rothbard's Critique of the Georgist Argument.)

Isn't land less important in today's economy than it was decades ago?

No. To understand why, simply ask yourself the following question. If the importance of land has indeed gone down, then why was the inflation-adjusted price of land so much higher in, say, 2006 than it was 50 years beforehand?

The answer is obvious: because, as the economy and population grow -- and as this, in turn, results in increasing numbers of people with higher incomes competing for access to the same amount of land -- the “importance” of land (as reflected in rents and land prices) grows along with them.

It is, of course, true that land values have recently dropped in many areas due to the collapsing real estate bubble. But as economist Fred Foldvary explains here, the speculation-driven real estate market tends to experience such price contractions about every 18 years, only to resume its former upward trend. If you made a historical chart depicting fluctuations in land values over the past century (adjusting for inflation), you’d notice an upward trend, not a downward one.

Are land values capable of generating the revenue needed for the legitimate functions of government?

The answer to this question depends on (a) how you interpret national income figures, (b) what you consider to be the "legitimate" functions of government, (c) the extent to which a reduction in taxes on labor and capital goods will drive up the rental value of land (and thus revenue capacity), and (d) the extent to which shifting to a land-based tax system will increase economic output (and thus the tax base).

With respect to national income figures, many economists accept (seemingly without question) the Commerce Department's claim that land rent makes up only 2% of the national income. Assuming for the sake of argument that this is true, that means a land-based tax system could yield no more than a few hundred billion in annual revenue.

Not all economists, however, subscribe to the belief that rent constitutes only 2% of the national income. For instance, in The Losses of Nations (1998), economist Fred Harrison explains how a study by Wall Street economist Michael Hudson revealed that the revenue capacity of land is actually about 14% of the national income, or what in 2009 would’ve amounted to approximately $1.7 trillion in annual revenue.

With respect to the "legitimate" functions of government, there are some who consider all current expenditures (including such things as corporate welfare and imperialist wars of aggression) to be "legitimate," in which case the LVT will need to generate well over $3 trillion in annual revenue for all levels of government. On the other hand, there are some who consider "legitimate" only those expenditures that go toward protecting individual rights (e.g., defending our national borders from military invasion, enforcing laws against force and fraud, adjudicating civil disputes, etc.) and toward maintaining some form of basic social safety net (particularly if provided with a minimum of bureaucracy, as a Guaranteed Income would do), in which case the LVT will need to generate no more than half of what is currently spent at the federal, state and local levels.

With respect to the reduction of taxes on labor and capital goods (“capital” for short), and the effect this has on the rental value of land, economists throughout history have observed that, when said taxes are lowered, land rents tend to rise proportionately. Why? For the simple and obvious reason that, the more people can afford to pay for access to a fixed quantity of land, the more titleholders are able to charge higher rents. If, for instance, the payroll tax were abolished, most of the resultant increase in take home pay would eventually be absorbed by higher rents. Thus, it follows that the more the tax burden on labor and capital is reduced, the more the revenue capacity of land is raised by a comparable amount. (Economist Mason Gaffney explains this more thoroughly in Ch. 7 of The Losses of Nations.)

And finally, with respect to economic output, it is common knowledge that, all else being equal, an increase in output means an increase in tax revenue (regardless of the tax system in place). It is also common knowledge that, all else being equal, an increase in output means an increase in the rental value of land (regardless of whether land rent is collected publicly or privately). The question thus arises: to what extent will a land-based tax system increase output, and hence the tax base? On page 147 of The Losses of Nations, economist Nicolaus Tideman estimates that

"...a shift to public collection of rent as the principal source of public revenue in the U.S. in 1993 would have increased the output of the U.S. economy by $1,602 billion above its actual level for 1993, implying that the U.S. economy is producing only 77 percent of what it could produce with a better tax policy."
All that being said, if you take the Commerce Department at its highly suspect word on rent being only 2% of the national income; if you believe that current tax revenue outlays at all levels of government should be maintained; and if you ignore the extent to which both economic output and the rental value of land will skyrocket in the absence of taxes on labor and capital, then you will undoubtedly conclude that land rent is not an adequate source of public revenue.  

If, on the other hand, you agree with Dr. Hudson's conclusion that rent is approximately 14% of the national income (if not more), then even if you oppose a moderate reduction in overall spending; and even if you ignore the increase in both economic output and land values that would accompany any significant decrease in the taxation of labor and capital, the LVT will still allow for the abolition of the federal individual income tax. But if you believe that $1.7 trillion could easily fund the legitimate functions of government, and if you realize the extent to which both economic output and the rental value of land would increase in the absence of taxes on labor and capital, then you will almost certainly conclude, as I have, that land rent is a more than adequate source of revenue for all levels of government.

How will the LVT be implemented?

In short, the same way it is now.

Critics of the LVT are fond of pretending that land values are not already being taxed, when in fact they are (albeit to a limited extent) by existing property taxes. The machinery for the LVT is already in place. Thus, all that is necessary to implement the LVT locally is to exempt houses, buildings and other improvements from taxation, and thereby focus existing property taxes on land values only. In this way the property tax will be converted to a land value tax.

As for state and federal taxation, geolibertarians advocate a bottom-up system whereby a portion of the LVT-revenue generated locally is sent to the applicable state governments, and a portion of that, in turn, to the federal government.

"The question naturally arises: How should Federal, state, and local governments obtain the rental value of land? The practical answer is that we should return to the constitutional provision that requires our Federal government to apportion direct land taxes among the states according to their respective populations. The states, in turn, should obtain this revenue and the revenue for their own support by apportionment among their counties, in the way Nebraska, Texas, Montana, and a number of other states still do. The counties, as agents of the states, should collect their revenue, and the revenue needed by state and Federal governments, from the rental value of their lands, using existing property tax collection machinery. These changes would reverse the trend of the last 50 years. Instead of lower levels of government becoming increasingly dependent upon higher levels of government for aid, thereby losing their independence, the higher levels of government would return to dependence upon the lower. That is as it should be if we wish to preserve our liberties."
-- Robert De Fremery, Rights vs. Privileges, pp. 39-40

Ideally, this will be phased in over a period of years. That is, as the LVT is moderately increased each year, taxes on everything else are proportionately decreased.

This process will continue until all taxation is abolished save for that upon on land rent, at which point we will finally be operating under Henry George’s Single Tax.

i was under the impression that most Americans actually own "real estate" not "land"


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