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Land Value Taxation: Rebuttals to Common Objections

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Author Topic: Land Value Taxation: Rebuttals to Common Objections  (Read 3666 times)
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« on: August 23, 2010, 03:57:55 pm »

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:     

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
« Last Edit: August 01, 2011, 04:26:25 pm by Geolibertarian » Report Spam   Logged

"For the first years of [Ludwig von] Mises’s life in the United States...he was almost totally dependent on annual research grants from the Rockefeller Foundation.” -- Richard M. Ebeling

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