Tax land, not buildings

By Jeffery Smith of Portland, Oregon. Jeffery describes himself as "a researcher, writer, and organizer in ecological economics (geonomics)." Learn more about his work at

Honestly, economists know the best way to tax. Use that power to recover for society the economic values that society generates. Don't use taxes to take the values that individuals create.

Across the Pacific, Sydney Australia is a model; they tax land, not buildings. When government does that, it recovers a socially generated value. Recall the old saw, the three most important things in real estate: location, location, location. It's nearness to lovely nature, law-abiding neighbors, good schools and jobs, major roads, and vibrant downtowns that entice people to part with vaults of cash for land.

Conversely, when we tax buildings, income, and sales, then we trespass. Those values are created by builders, workers, and entrepreneurs. When we tax such goods more, we get less of them. US HUD concluded that taxing buildings in marginal areas creates slums. Taxing wages loses jobs. And taxing business reduces investment.

In order to more easily afford their 'land dues', owners who'd been speculating or procrastinating (including politicians and bureaucrats with public land) would get busy and develop their sites. The new development creates jobs and local spending. Nearly a dozen Nobel laureate economists recommend levying site value in lieu of taxing the things we do make. When Denmark did it, inflation fell to under 1%. When New Zealand did it, for 10 years employment hit 99%. In Australia, the towns taxing land, not buildings, increased their manufacturing businesses 10% -- while the rest of the country was in a recession.

Places that shift taxes off buildings onto land make more good things happen. As the new development in-fills the city, it shortens travel distances and times, reducing traffic. That in turn reduces smog and oily runoff. Infill also curbs sprawl, again benefiting the environment. Steven Reed, Mayor of Harrisburg PA, gives complete credit to his city's land tax for preserving suburban farmland. Unlike all others, site value taxes are both fair and efficient. Now you know, too.

  • Chris (unverified)

    As long as the tax is not regressive and puts more burden on those who can afford it, go for it. But, if two plots of ground (of equal value, let's say farmland) have unequal improvements (and one owner has high value improvements) it may not be fair if the owner of the higher value improvements also has more income (even a trust fund) than the other owner. My example is simplistic, but our tax paradigm should fully fund a complete K-12 education and health care for all, which is doesn't now.

  • KISS (unverified)

    Not tax business? Sound like republicanism to me. A value added tax seems fair to everyone.Income tax could be done away with. Property tax with a homestead exemption of median price being the exempt factor would keep the playing field level. Luxury taxes should be part of the mix. There is no panacea of one tax to fund all that is necessary. Making the middle and low classes pay the bulk is immoral and just plain stupid.

  • Dan J (unverified)


    thank you for providing some actual examples of how this has worked. It is refreshing to see some facts rather than theory and models.


    Not tax business? Sound(s) like repulicanism to me.

    No it sounds like you need to grasp how the economy actually works. Business does not pay taxes. YOU DO!

    If you increase "taxes" on a business, guess what they do? There are only two long term answers for business.

    (1) Raise prices to cover the taxes. The increased prices are paid by consumers. Thus, Gov't raises the cost to those who can least afford to pay more for consumer items.

    (2) Pull out of a given product or geographic market. When they pull out, competition is decreased and the remaining vendors have more pricing power, thus, once again, prices trend higher.

    You can say this is wrong, but you can't back it up aside from some oddball extreme examples. Higher corporate taxes reduce output (and employment) or raises prices to pass through the cost.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Besides being a real estate appraiser, I am the Board Appraiser for our local County Board of Property Tax Appeals. I've seen both in my work and in the tax appeals what the value of the land under businesses and what the business improvements to that land actually are.

    What is proposed is a large tax cut for businesses.

    I have also seen another factor that would make me wonder about this proposal. You know all those large homes sitting on large parcels of land out in the country side. Most of them are sitting on farm deferred parcels. The tax they pay is based upon a tax break for keeping the land in farm production. I have seen half million dollar + homes where the tax on the land is only a few hundred per year.

    This proposal is regressive. It will place more tax burden upon the lower end of the real estate market. The closer the total value (land and improvements combined) of a property is to its land value - meaning that it is an older more depreciated house - the higher the total taxes. Example for those who need to see this in concrete:

    If land value of a lot is $50,000, at $15 per thousand the tax would be $750.

    If the improvements were $50,000 (older house), then the tax rate on that property would be .75%.

    But if the improvements on that property were $150,000 (newer modest house), then the tax rate on that property would be .38%.

    The more valuable property would pay less tax as a tax rate than the less valuable property.

    You could argue that the more valuable house would raise the land value - and you'd be wrong. Only a very small difference in land value will be noted in most cases.

    So, this proposal is another way to cut taxes for the wealthy at the expense of the working poor.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    Its an interesting concept, but I think there are three problems that need to be addressed:

    1) The cost of providing services to land varies quite substantially depending on the development on it.

    2) It is not only the value of the land that benefits from improved services, the improvements on the land also gain in value. It is not only the lot that is more expensive but the same house on that more expensive lot. 3) While it is true that we all pay for government services, the question is how those costs are apportioned. Nike includes it Oregon taxes in the shoes it sells in New York as well as those sold in Oregon. So New Yorkers are paying their share of the cost of the government services that helped to produce those shoes.

    If you increase "taxes" on a business, guess what they do? There are only two long term answers for business.

    (1) Raise prices to cover the taxes. The increased prices are paid by consumers. Thus, Gov't raises the cost to those who can least afford to pay more for consumer items.

    (2) Pull out of a given product or geographic market. When they pull out, competition is decreased and the remaining vendors have more pricing power, thus, once again, prices trend higher.

    And when you increase taxes on people they only have two choices:

    1) Demand higher wages from their employer forcing them to raise prices, or;

    2) Move to another job or geographic market. When they pull out, the number of customers available to business declines ... and you have economic stagnation.

    In fact, businesses charge what the market will bear. If they can't make a profit at that price they go out of business. The problem comes when some businesses pay lower taxes than others and gain a competitive advantage. It is inequity in taxation that causes problems, not the level of taxes. To the extent we can eliminate those inequities the market will be more efficient in weeding out businesses.

    Perhaps taxes on land alone are more efficient. But I suspect the immediate effect would be to transfer a larger share of the tax burden to indviduals. That is the wrong direction. Over the last two decades Oregon has already made an enormous shift of taxes from businesses to individuals. The result is that those New Yorkers aren't paying as much for Oregon's government services as they used to.

  • (Show?)

    "Those values are created by builders, workers, and entrepreneurs. When we tax such goods more, we get less of them."

    Do people never tire of this argument? It seems to be continually confounded by other factors. We're certainly not seeing a downturn in the number of value-added properties developed, or the size of those developments. Houses are getting bigger, not smaller--because people want them that way, and are willing to pay the taxes on them.

    Wealth creation outside of wage income--that is, investment income, inheritance income, and real property holdings--are fair game for taxation. It is the reduction in burden on the holders of wealth, relative to the burden on wage income, that is at least partially responsible for the fiscal mess the country finds itself in. Reducing the burden on development to nil simply affords the super-wealthy another shelter for their money--and from this Oregonian's perspective, the LAST thing we need is an incentive to development on land that is otherwise dormant.

  • Dan J (unverified)


    I'm not is disagreement with much of what you said. One thing should be noted though: You don't have to increase taxes on inividuals.

    Guess what happens to cities that have low business taxes?

    More business moves to that location and employ more people. You don't have to believe me on this. Do your own research. (1)Take a look at metro areas with at least $500,000 people. Take a look at the average tax rates over the past 10 years, and the direction of the tax (increasing or decreasing).

    (2) Take a look at the employment base growth/shrinkage of the high tax vs. low tax locations.

    What you will find is that the high tax locations are growing slower(or shrinking) and the low tax locations are experiencing growth and a SURGE in tax revenues.

    Naturally, there are other variables, such as weather, affinity group ammenities, etc.

    Examples of this in real life, not think tank fog, include Toyota Motors building and opening new manufacturing plants in low tax locations here in the USA. These are good paying jobs.

    As more people join the work force, less gov't is needed to support them. However, the new employed are now paying into unemployment insurance and join the group that can purchase consumer goods and their own insurance. In the case of most large insurers, some form of insurance in provided thus further reducing the cost to gov't.

    You make the point for NOT raising taxes on the individual when you say:

    "..when you increase taxes on people the only have two choices"

    (2) Move to another job or geographic market. When they pull out, the number of customers ....declines...and you have economic stagnation."

    Finally, someone on Blue Oregon that understands that higher taxes hurt the economy and its' citizens.


    I think you missed part of the writer's point:

    Land values do go up because they become more valuable to develop. Thus, investors are willing to pay more for land because the return on total investment is so much higher.

    The real world examples cited show that these areas resisted a downturn and experienced low un-employment. Isn't that what we want, the common person having a job to support his family? When people are working, payroll taxes go up collectively, but do not have to increase individually.

    The power of large numbers.

    Do you own a Dell Computer? Odds are good that at least 1 in 3 of the people that sign on to Blue Oregon do. Why did they buy a Dell? Lower prices that met their needs. Dell grew by adding more units of sale. Tax revenues grow by adding more units of tax-payers.

  • Dan J (unverified)

    Hey Torrid,

    Do you think the renewal that has happened in the Pearl district, compared to the run-down state it was in, is a good or a bad thing?

    Or was it just an evil give-away concocted buy Vera and her friends to line the pockets of a few builders?

    Wrong on all accounts!

    Tax incentives (i.e., reductions) were provided as an incentive to develop. We've all seen what happened in the Pearl since then.

    And yes, land values have soared.

    Is there more or less tax revenue generated in the Pearl than before?

    Answer = MORE!

    "Last thing we need is an incentive to development on land that is otherwise dormant."

    Good try Joe. many acres in the Pear had been dormant. Did you prefer it the run down way it was?

    Odds are pretty good that the land that you and I have our homes on was "dormant" 15 years ago.

  • (Show?)

    Dan-- If you want to argue that targeted incentives for developing blighted properties can spur development and create a beneficial outcome, I don't dispute that. Narrowly targeted manipulations of the tax code DO often have salutory effects. But that's not what we're talking about here; we're discussing an across the board shift in the taxation paradigm, regardless of circumstance. With or without an incentive, the Kerr Parkway area of LO would have become a favorite of insurers and title companies. With or without a tax break, people will build in Council Crest. And it's not necessarily because of the intrinsic value of the land--Mount Tabor affords views of the city and mountains every bit as beautiful as the West Hills.

    Furthermore, what's proposed here is an inflexible approach--surely the Pearl does not need incentivizing anymore; the draw to development already exists: previous, successful development. And that pokes another hole in the theory that land itself is the critical component. With each successive condo tower, art gallery or cuisine restaurant, the area becomes more attractive for further development. And is that because of the land? No--it's because of the value being ADDED to that land.

    And then of course there is the flipside--incentivized areas that do NOT result in broader or intensified development. TODs have been a good thing on balance, but a common argument by opponents of transit-oriented development is that the areas don't necessarily take root just because you give a break to developers. As I said, there can be a number of confounding factors to the theory.

    Finally, I'll offer a more esoteric defense of taxing value that turns Jeffrey's argument on its head: what else BUT that which we create, should we tax? Land is a finite commodity which humans did not create, cannot remove, cannot transplant. Even the largest mansions can be dismantled and rebuilt somewhere else, but the land stays. It is a common treasury for all persons to share (rules of stewardship notwithstanding), inherently belonging to no one and everyone at the same time.

    And "my" land had the exact same house on it 38 years ago that it does today.

  • Jeffk (unverified)

    In reading the comments, it seems that the vast majority of the commentors are simpletons who see taxes as the ONLY factor that should be considered when making a decision.

    I know that cannot be the case. I'm sure that in their own personal lives, they consider a myriad of other factors besides tax when they make just about any decision. I'm sure they are all intelligent people , and resort to such inane arguments to attempt to persuade.

    I, for one, won't be persuaded by such one-dimensional arguments. It's clear to me that there is an optimal and NON-ZERO level of taxation, and I'm sure that I could find examples of such if I felt like digging. I know that the Oregon I left in 1991 was, in my perception, better off than the one I returned to in 1996, and that, in turn, was in some ways much better off than the Oregon of today. I'm pretty sure that "taxes" were higher back then, so the obvious conclusion is that lower taxes is a bad thing. Sure, I'd have more money in my pocket, but the Real Bottom Line values more than just money.

    It amazes me that people can claim that the level of taxation is THE most important thing, and ignore the evidence of Their Own Lives. Think about what you value in your life. Think about what you value when making a decision like which house to buy, which car to drive, where to live, where to work, what to do. Think about how little the level of taxation matters in most of those decisions. It is a factor, certainly. But I would wager that it is not the most important factor in most of your decision, and it is certainly not the most important factor for most people in those decisions.

    Sure, all else being equal, I'd rather pay less than pay more. But all else IS NOT equal. In most cases, paying less means you get less. In some cases, paying less means you spent something else (like time) in order to get the same. In some cases, paying a little more gives you a lot more.

  • Rebel Dog (unverified)

    I have seen half million dollar + homes where the tax on the land >> is only a few hundred per year

    And who does that benefit besides real estate developers and people whose sense of community is the desire to walk out back and yell f*ck at the top of their lungs without the neighbors hearing? It's just white flight. Every person that moves away from their community for rural isolation is a person with means that isn't working on fixing their communities. BTW, you sell houses, not homes.

    I'm a strict libertarian on tzx issues. Every program should be designed well enough for it to pay it's own way. If it doesn't it's not government's business. If people want to fund something that is not valued by the voter or the bottom line, let them. I appreciate the consideration that I'm sure well intentioned Dems have for the less well off, but it seems that when it comes to funding those programs you all always end up telling people like me that it's our debt. At various times, I have mentioned specific instances of fraud, waste, unconscionable behavior and "just don't give a damn attitude" from people I worked with at DHS. I have yet to hear one person that is interested in pursuing any of it, here, there or in between.

    At the end of the day I seem to always come up against some staffer that was able to turn their "selfless idea" into a full-time job for themselves, and that's the last I hear of the suffering classes. All the talk about livable wage, taxation, etc., immediately turns to their salaries, their livable wage, their taxes. I proposed a volunteer corps that would work at near minimum wage rates for the state, out of a sense of service. Never talked about anything but a volunteer effort and the idea was routinely scoffed at, on this blog, not one person speaking in support. Offer people something for nothing and they act like frightened, cornered animals. That's a clue that things are terribly askew. I wonder why people don't trust government and don't want to pay for necessary services with their taxes?

    As an aside, I've lived in places like England, the Netherlands, etc., where the tax rate is considered high. It was a particularly stark contrast for me, since I was living in Texas at the time (no personal or corporate income tax). Used the same spreadsheet to do my budget everywhere and the funny thing was that I had more pocket money at the end of the month in Holland than Texas. I guess it's that living free is cheap. Maybe it's that we spend an enormous amount of money doing things that we're not particularly interested in because we can't do what we really want to. And when the government decides to allow some previously verboten behavior, well of course that has to be taxed off the scale. It's not that the tax system doesn't work; it's the relationship between the state and the populace that's dysfunctional. It's like taking a married couple in a horrible, violent relationship and telling them that eventually the violence and day to day despair might be addressed, but, for now, they need to attend financial planning classes. Of course their finances are in a mess. Their life is in a mess. I can't see where the metaphor fails.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks Jeffrey for this post. I appreciate your work.

    The main construct that progressives need to understand is that the property tax system should reward the efficient use of land and punish those that waste land. Geonomics could easily be morphed into a progressive science. We must have the wherewithal to stop criticizing and add meaningful ideas to this debate.

    In the end, the property tax system needs to evolve into something that benefits our community. Farmland perhaps should be more clearly defined. Different rates should be paid by businesses and individuals. And among these two groups, different rates should be levied based upon valuations. The point is that there are a lot of ways to reshape the property taxes in this state. But if we don't find a meaningful solution and soon, our schools are going to get hammered come the next recession.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Wow - for a "progressive" bunch of folks, sensitivity to the working class sure falls through the cracks.

    Someone has to repair your stuff when it breaks, sell you stuff in the beginning, and haul it away when you are done with it. Someone sells you your food, in some cases cooks your food, grows your food, hauls your food, and when you are done with it takes what's left to the dump or runs the sewage treatment plant. Someone takes the power line to your house/apartment, makes the power company run, puts water into the pipes, fixes the plumbing, etc. etc Most of these people can't afford to live in mansions. As Democrats or progressives, we are about these people, not the ones that live in mansions.

    Tax schemes that have the effect of raising the proportion of tax burden upon the working class are regressive. That means it will hurt our society. If this scheme has the effect, as some have suggested here, of creating more land value; and this in turn means that the current low-value improvements get taken off to put higher value improvements in place - what have you done to affordable housing? When you have a tax rate that is nearly static without regard to the improvements upon the land, the lower the value of the improvements the higher the overall rate of taxation on the real property. The higher the value of the improvements as a ratio against the land value; the lower the overall rate of taxation on the real property. That higher tax on poorer property basically defines a regressive tax scheme.

    JeffK is absolutely right on a point in stating that the tax scheme is not the most important thing. We have to look more comprehensively at what surrounds such decisions. What is encouraged and what is discouraged?

    Do people honestly believe that poverty will be eliminated by making it unaffordable? Some seem to think that in this blog thread.

    Much to my chagrin I find myself agreeing with Rebel Dog on a point. Places with higher taxation like over in Europe seem to have happier people with more disposable income - perhaps because their basic needs are better met by a society that believes in fair taxation. (Rebel Dog seems to have missed the point that the land only tax scheme would make worse the problem of low property tax on rural mansions, and that I don't think it is right to have low tax on them in the first place, and lower tax on them in the second place.)

    What we really need is a complete overhaul to our tax system where people pay based upon fairness. The wealthy people in this country got wealthy because we provided an infrastructure that facilitated their wealth. Their "fair share" of taxations should be higher - not because they can afford it, but because it is only "fair" to pay for what you have received. Local taxes should pay for local services, and we should return to local taxes to support our schools. There is a whole lot more that could be said on this, but I will end with the notion that taxation, as has been suggested, should not be dealt with as a stand alone issue. Mixed in with it is our whole notion of who we are as a locality, State, or Nation; and what we believe is our common purpose as a society. This is "big picture" stuff that is best to debate in the "big picture" as single issues like taxing land ripple out to affect just about everything.

  • progressive democrat (unverified)

    interesting discussion, reminds me of the single-tax idea put forward by henry george in "Progress and Poverty". how ironic that the arguments of henry george, one of the most progressive economic thinkers of the 19th century, is receiving nothing but ire from the progressives on this blog (of which i am one), and praise from the conservatives, and libertarians.

    this is further ironic, because such a tax would lend itself toward the more progressive goals of high-density development, and would render sprawl uneconomic. in fact, if structured correctly, it could probably eliminate most land speculation which is often responsible for slumlording, and other underutilized urban plots--all of a sudden a city block sized parking lot at nw 4th and couch is not a profit making endeavor. it might also be an effective check against housing bubbles, which are dependant on that same speculation.

    i tend to agree with h.l. mencken that "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong", and this could be just that if implemented exactly as suggested, but it seems like an interesting idea for progressives to look into. i don't think anyone would seriously consider completely removing all taxes besides those on the unimproved value of land, that would be absurd. the interesting idea lies in partially shifting taxes off of structures onto land values--i garuntee you this would lower taxes for most home owners and farmers, and raise them on plots downtown, and for auto dealers, walmart, malls, and other businesses that rely on huge parking lots.

    torridjoe, your last paragraph sounds like an argument in support of jeffery's idea. because land is a scarce commodity, but also a commons that belongs to everyone and no one, that we permit private ownership of through government granted deeds, it makes sense to tax the socially created value. property in land is exclusionary, the owner of the most valuable plot is keeping everyone else from using it, does that owner--who is taking more from the commons--not owe more back to the people?

    development incentives in blighted areas are not a fair comparision--in those cases the developers are paying very low taxes temporarily in order to spur development. they are not paying tax on the land value. a properly structured land value tax could give homeowners in these areas more incentive (rather than penalty) to improve their own homes, and thus their neighborhood, themselves.

    if i remember correctly, site value taxation is an idea that ralph nader pushed in his 2000 presidential campaign with the green party. let's see... here it is : The Decline of Urban Civilization: the Sprawl Years. yeah, so if ralph and the green party pushed the idea, it must be republican, because we alo know that nader and the greens got bush elected (don't blame me, i voted for gore). the more i think about it the more i like it.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    Guess what happens to cities that have low business taxes?

    You have the whole state of Mississippi. Lets be clear, taxes are not a huge factor in determining location for most businesses. And lack of government services is.

    Toyota Motors building and opening new manufacturing plants in low tax locations here in the USA.

    But that is precisely the problem with this argument, the areas they are choosing also have cheap land and a lower standard of living. Nike goes to China for the same reasons, it has nothing to do with taxes.

    Finally, someone on Blue Oregon that understands that higher taxes hurt the economy and its' citizens.

    Not hardly, I was being sarcastic in response to your suggestion that transferring the tax burden to individuals somehow made them cost less. I think both arguments are equally silly. Most people don't move to a different state because the taxes are lower and neither do most businesses.

    Government services cost money, the question is whether they are worth the cost. I think we are wasting a lot of money by not paying for more government services. When you close the local swimming pool because you can't pay the lifeguard you are wasting a huge investment in that pool. When you build a new jail and can't afford to open it, you are wasting that investment. When you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop an effective afterschool program like the SUN schools and then shut it down you because you can no longer afford it, you are wasting a lot of money.

    The problem isn't that taxes are too high, its that they aren't high enough to provide the high quality services people want and need. So we provide lousy public schools, poor law enforcement and let out highways and streets fill with potholes. There are long lines and lousy service at the DMV. Its no wonder people think their money is being wasted, we are paying all the overhead while starving the actual service.

    The penny-wise, pound foolish, Republicans keep repeating their silly anti-tax mantras about how buinesses don't pay taxes. Neither do you - your employer does. In the end, government services come out of the economy - just like everything else.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    It is quite surprising that so many political junkies on here seem to be totally unaware of Henry George. I probably would be, too, except I had an old friend in San Francisco who subscribed to his ideas.

    You can learn more about Geroge here:

    His basic belief was that poverty was caused and exascerbated by the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a small number of families--a concept recently stated by Paul Krugman among others.

    Employing Georgist tax policy does not necessarily translate into a boondoggle for the wealthy. The block upon which sits Big Pink (the U.S. Bank Building) would still be taxed at a high rate, for the value of its location, not for the 30-story building. The trick, of course, if valuing land and adjusting the value over time.

    For example, if a de3veloper put up a stylish condo off the MAX line in Rockwood, under the Georgist system, the land value would still be low compared to most other parts of the Metro area. But if several stylish condos went up in Rockwood, accompanied by chi-chi restaurants, hip coffee housses and a movie theater running only indie films (thus allowing Jenni Simonis to see a decent movie near her house), would the value of the location not increase?

    So just like everything else, a Georgist system would be in flux and not be perfect.

  • Rebel Dog (unverified)

    "...receiving nothing but ire from the progressives on this blog (of which i am one), and praise from the conservatives, and libertarians."

    Without taking the contrast between libertarian and progressive negatively, perhaps we have no good definition for progressive and regressive. I've always liked the Oxford school of philosophy known as linguistic analysis, and they state that the meaning of a word is its usage. Since the terms are being used in varying and contradictary ways, it has become essentially meaningless.

    I propose a definition. It's based on statistics. Since we're talking about economics, maybe that's the best way to define it. In stat., we talk about regression, as in "regression to the mean". That's the opposite of progressive. The tendncy being that the more predictor variables you have to determine the bottom line, the further your estimate tends to progress away from the mean. Since that trend is attenuated by the actual strength of the relationship and error of measurement, statisticians talk about regression toward the mean, as you know less and less about something. If I know nothing about you, except that you live in Portland, and I'm asked your income, I'll guess the mean of the distribution. If I know that education is correlated and know your educational background, my estimate progresses away from the mean.

    So, this would mean that the most regressive forms of taxation are the "flat" taxes. The poll tax would be an extreme; all we need to determine is that you're a breathing human. Conversely, the most progressive tax codes are the most baroque. But, as a libertarian, that's not exactly what I mean by progressive. To me the common theme is that I determine my position by working backwards from the desired outcome, using commonly agreed criteria to measure progress, with no a priori theory about what the outcome has to look like. Totally data driven. To the extent that social/primate variables come into play, the outcomes are driven by cronyism, in this view.

    Bottom line: progressive politics means less cronyism, less cliquish behavior.

    Steve, if you're saying you want to raise the taxes on rural mansions- and yes I didn't read that closely after you said you were a realtor- I am truly impressed, stand corrected and am glad I am sitting down.

  • progressive democrat (unverified)

    progressive is indeed a troublesome word--the original progressive movement was itself somewhat of a victory for conservativism (as in centralization of power), and the following movement bordered on outright communism--but i use it because i think it's the best word we have. i agree with rebel dog, progressivism is more about ends--less cronyism, and more distributed political power--than means (say, a particular method of taxation or regulation).

  • Jeffery J. Smith (unverified)

    Many thanks for all your comments. Some attempted clarifications:

    Is New Hampshire absurd? They have a single tax, albeit on property, not site value.

    Yes, taxing land would be an incentive to build - to build where you'd prefer a building, rather than where you'd prefer to leave land pristine. As long as people populate, you have more building. Land taxes site them in already served places, as in Harrisburg.

    What about McMansions in particular, bigger houses in general? We have them because we have skewed income. We have that because some corral the land values and government subsidies while the majority don't. But since the well off bid up the price of land (underneath homes and every building), at least recycle that money back to society via site-value taxes or land dues, coupled with "rent diviends", an extra payment for everyone like Alaska does or Aspen CO.

    What about farms? When you focus development in urbanized areas, you take the pressure off, as in Pennsylvania, so their selling prices drop, so their land tax drops, too.

    Urban renewal can be free, without subsidy or tax breaks, as was Pittsburgh's. Just motivate downtown owners to quit speculating and get busy renewing. Having to pay a site-value tax is the perfect prod.

    Most poor people live on low value land and catch a break. Some don't. You could offer deferments, as many places do for property taxes. Better yet would be the dividend.

    Most rich people own very valuable locations. They'd pay more. If not, they'd promote this scheme, not me, instead of pushing Prop 13 and its descendants. Some do catch a break, but only when they put their sites to highest and best use, which puts others to work, and progressives are all about keeping the minions busy, eh?

    If you don't tax business directly, you don't necessarily exempt them. They still must do business on some location. You get more from them charging a "rent" for their site than a slice of their profits, because you don't distort incentives. Before reunification, Hong Kong was voted by FORTUNE Magazine the best city in the world for business, for its low taxes. The article left out Hong Kong existed on public land and building owners paid high rents to the city. It's the only city with zero-subsidy mass transit.

    You could have a flat rate since land values are so skewed. A prime location can be 2k x more valuable than a lot in a trailor park. Usually, the rich don't put mansions in trailor parks.

    Taxes matter. They're included in mortgages. Can't afford them, you can't borrow. Taxes matter most at what economists call the "margin", or the tipping point.

    Assessments are notably biased in the US, from land, to buildings (to let speculators - most of us - depreciate and claim tax benefits). Canada's BC has much better assessments.

    Sales taxes and VAT are both unfair and inefficient. The poorest states in the US - down south - have that recipe of relatively high sales taxes and low property taxes.

    You get rid of property taxes, all you do is inflate land price (see California). Taxing land does not change how much you pay; it only pays to whom you pay - either to your neighbors or to a seller or landlord or speculator.

    A luxury sales tax? Just go and fire the poor yokels working in those fields.

    Fees, being more price-like quid pro quo, can work. So that they're not regressive, we should make the kicker a fixture. If you get all the site values of all land - from commercial to sylvan - you could easily afford to pay each Oregon voter a few hundred a month. That's bigger than the Alaskan oil dividend, or the Aspen CO housing assistance.

    Focusing on public taxation - public taking of private values - overlooks private taxation - private taking of public values. We, the public, generate enormous values, most of which attach to land. We should recover and share them.

    Rational taxation is not a panacea. It just cures what irrational taxation causes.

  • progressive democrat (unverified)

    sorry, "absurd" was too strong a word. i guess what i meant was, i doubt anybody would support such a drastic change.

    so why not get an initiative going for the 2008 election? lord knows our convoluted system, due to measures 5-57-50, could use some cleaning up.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Is New Hampshire absurd?

    Yes. They elected John Sunnunu Governor. Many commute into Boston. Both are absurd.

  • Dan Sullivan (unverified)

    When Mr. Buckman says that land value tax will give a break to businesses, it is important to ask which businesses, and to pay attention to how taxes are passed on to the consumer.

    Here in Pennsylvania, cities already have a land tax option, and many cities take advantage of it. When it was proposed in each city, some people reacted according to how it would affect various businesses, and particularly to how it would affect USX (formerly US Steel).

    In Pittsburgh, where the USX tower saved more than a million dollars per year, city council members asked, "Why do you want to give a tax break to USX?" I answered, "Because there are 6,000 jobs in the USX tower, and we should be grateful that those jobs are here."

    In Clairton, where USX held 40% of the total land value of the city, city council members asked, "What do you have against USX?" "Nothing," I replied, but there are only 200 jobs left at the USX Clairton works, and Clairton needs USX to let go of the land they are not using."

    There are dozens of USX mill sites in Western Pennsylvania, and every site except one (in Braddock, PA) would pay more under land value tax. The Braddock site pays less because it is the only mill site that was completely modernized.

    LVT puts underused sites back into use. This generates more competition, and more competition means lower prices. Similarly, because it draws housing development back into the city, it increases the supply of housing and helps keep housing prices from spiralling out of control.

    People who ignore this think that the tax shifts the burden to the home owner when it actually makes homes more affordable.

  • JDK (unverified)

    Maybe when come right down to it people need to see in dollars and cents, how land value taxation would actually work. is a pretty good example.

    Explore the property tax calculater function.

    And if you can obtain the assessment data for your locality, and get it to us we can probably figure out a way to put it online. So that people can see for themselves.

    Land Value Taxation is progressive. (more progressive that a sales tax and more progressive than income taxes with lots of loop holes, and more progressive than the normal property tax.)

    Land Value Taxation removes taxation that discourages urban job creation. There are hundreds of empirical studies supporting this contention and none disputing it.

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