Rebuttal to Arguments Against Land Value Taxation
On 18 October 2010 I wrote on Arguments Against Land Value Taxation (http://www.progress.org/2010/fold687.htm). I now provide the rebuttals.
1. Critics say that the supply of usable land can be expanded by filling, clearing, and levelling. No, because that does not change the cubic meters of space within the boundaries of the area. The improvements are capital goods, not land. Taxing land value does not tax the improvements.
2. Critics say that the supply of land offered in the market is not fixed. Yes, the quantities offered for sale are not fixed, but the total amount of land available is fixed. The sale of land just changes the persons who have title. The total quantity is important in setting the market rent and price of land. The fixed total quantity, and the fact that land was provided by nature, makes land rent an economic surplus that can be tapped with no economic damage.
3. Critics say that there is plenty of bare land, so there is no shortage of land, and no land problem. Yes, there is much unused land, but what matters is the scarcity of land in locations people want to use.
4. Critics say that much of the value of land comes from services and improvements such as streets, parks, and security, so land-value taxation would tax the capital goods along with land. No, because if the added value comes from privately provided works, the payment would go to the providers by contract. If the public works are provided by government, then the added rental goes to the government to pay back value received and avoid a subsidy to landowners.
5. Critics say that people have much of their asset value in land, and LVT would result in great losses and also wreak financial markets as much of lending is for mortgages. Not if those with net losses are compensated with bonds. See (http://www.progress.org/2006/fold461) "How to end stinking taxes immediately."
6. Critics of LVT claim that speculation is an essential part of a market economy, as entrepreneurs seek the best timing for development, and LVT results in premature redevelopment and causes too much building. No, because the tax on land value is independent of its actual use, based only on its potential in its highest and best use, and it is the lack of LVT that in some cases causes premature development expecting higher land value, and in other cases causes speculators to avoid developing, waiting for higher land values. LVT promotes the optimal timing as the opportunity cost of not developing is in money and thus has a greater impact. What is bad is not speculation as such but subsidized land value, distorting incentives.
7. Critics say that LVT redistributes wealth from landowners, but there is nothing morally wrong with an inequality in wealth and income. But when government provides public goods paid for by taxes other than on land, this pumps up rent and land value, redistributing wealth from workers to landowners. And for land value provided by nature, geoist ethics say that human equality requires an equal benefit from natural resources. Inequality in market wages respects equal self-ownership, while an unequal benefit from the natural heritage does violate our creation as moral equals.
8. Critics say that LVT is not fair to homeowners whose land goes up in value and whose wages do not rise. But LVT would provide an opportunity for companies to provide insurance against an unexpected increase in the land value tax. The insurance would have a cost at the time of purchase, so that the new title holder would know if he could afford the payments. Also, retired folks with low incomes could postpone the payments until the property is sold or inherited.
9. Critics of LVT claim that much of wages is due to luck, connections, and talents, so a portion is wages is unearned. But as Henry George wrote, justice is the end, taxation only the means. It is just for the benefits of natural resource to be shared, and for landowners to pay back the rental generated by public goods. Self-ownership is also just, even if some have greater wealth due to luck. Nobody is coercively harmed if one person has more talent than others. If others own your luck, you become a slave to them, violating self-ownership.
10. Critics of LVT claim that rent is often earned as landlords actively seek out the best tenants and the best use of a site. But this is not rent; the return on this exertion is wages. Those seeking the best tenants and sites are in the role of entrepreneur, not landlord. Some of the rental that tenants pay is wages to the entrepreneur and to the manager.
11. Critics say that the tax burden should be shared by everyone, not concentrated on landowners, and that since tenants don’t pay taxes, they will vote for bigger government. But the rent tapped for public revenue is what is paid by tenants. The rent could be taken directly from tenants, skipping the landlord middle-man. A “citizens’ dividend” or distribution of some of the rent to all residents would provide an incentive for people to avoid wasteful government spending, as that would reduce their cash dividend.
12. Critics claim that there is no precise method of separating land value from improvement value. They have not talked to professional real estate appraisers. Land value appraisal is needed for fire insurance, mortgages, the purchase of land with a building to be demolished, and other private transactions. Techniques to appraise site value include comparable sales of bare lots or lots sold for demolition, calculating the replacement costs of buildings minus depreciation, and maps of neighborhood properties.
13. Anarchist critics claim that LVT would finance government tyrants. But geoism is not just the taxation of land but equally sharing the benefits. Geoism opposes landlord tyranny.
14. Socialist critics claim that LVT leaves intact capital inequalities. But much of the historical inequality of wealth has come from land tenure. Over time, inherited wealth other than land dissipates or gets donated to charity. With good education and equal access to natural opportunities, inequalities in financial assets are not unjust so long as there is no force or fraud.
15. Critics of LVT claim that property ownership promotes civil values and stability. This has been disputed, but if true, the ownership of one’s human capital, future wages, buildings, and personal property should provide similar benefits.
For more detailed rebuttals, read the book Critics of Henry George.