Obscure but interesting, at least to me. . .
Leaders know about land-value taxes and their benefits, but they almost never hear about them from their constituents.
A 2003 survey of legislators (I know, I’m behind on my reading) and local elected officials found that among both groups, two-thirds of respondents were either somewhat or very familiar with the concept of land-value taxation. Some 63 percent of state lawmakers and 77 percent of local officials believed that land-value (or split-rate) taxation would be a positive stimulus for urban development. (They’re right: it accomplishes this trick by inducing land speculators to change their investment strategy—into economically productive channels rather than the economic parasitism of speculation. We’ve written about it in Tax Shift and This Place on Earth 2001.)
What they don’t know is that their constituents want land-value taxes (which is likely because those constituents don’t know about the benefits of land-value taxation). When asked if they had ever been contacted by a constituent or organization to ask their support for land-value taxation, only one in ten said, “yes.”
Elected officials are contacted about every conceivable issue and policy proposal, over and over, day after day. The fact that only one tenth report ever having heard about land-value taxes from any voter or lobbyist suggests two things:
1. There’s vanishingly little organized constituency promoting this positive innovation (only a rag-tag crew of Henry George enthusiasts).
2. A little bit of lobbying might make a real difference.
While I haven’t lived there in years, the land-tax alternative was a growing debate in Philadelphia a few years back. Especially in areas of high vacancy, such a strategy seems promising, and support was fairly strong for it. Hallwatch.org seems to have the latest coverage for those interested.
The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has a book on their site that details the LVT in Britain, and here’s a Wiki entry as well. What’s important in the short run is that in WA, the Supreme Court struck down I-747, a 1% cap on property tax. This is less than inflation and in effect forces cities to run on less and less money every year, or – like California – allow auto malls and shopping centers to sprout in fields.In the long run, LVT may or may not be an answer in this era of small groups trying to overturn land-use law.
I would not exactly call the Council of Georgist Organizations (CGO), “rag-tag”. True, we’re small, but we are active in our own ways. Rag-tag implies that we are not organized. The CGO is organized. We have a yearly conference (the 2007 will be held in Scranton, PA in mid July) to energize & report on our efforts and co-publish a directory of georgist organizations periodically.The problem our movement has is that it’s followers & supporters are growing old and are not as active as they once were.Because people have not heard of us; it is hard to raise funds to grow the movement. The movement needs to support its activists and can not always do so.Sincerely, sns, CGO Administrators
The study cited is an indication that techniques and instruments do not significantly public action. Rather, interests, values, and ideas do. I’m sure there have been a few instances in history of a technique capturing the public imagination and causing the development of a political movement or constituency, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any. The land value tax is a technique. It is a technique with a number of benefits, including those described by Alan. But, by itself, it is nothing more than an instrument. It is not an idea or a value.In order to be effective, land value taxation must become attached either to an interest group or to an idea. The minimalist tax shift, which involves lowering taxes on buildings and raising them on land, should be able to develop interest group support because the majority of homeowners benefit from such a shift. The fact that even an interest-based constituency is hard to solidify around this policy instrument suggetst that even this modest redistribution of power at the local level requires more than simple self-interest. It requires passion, and passion only comes from ideas with the potential for transformation. I won’t attempt here to offer the sort of general philosophy within which the land tax makes sense. I am merely suggesting that the technique will never have any political traction unless it is imbedded in a philosophy with a larger purpose.
sns,No offense intended in calling Georgists a “rag-tag crew.” I meant it as a compliment for your tenacity. But, you must admit, Georgists are no powerhouse in North American politics.Cliff,Nice to hear from you—flattered to see you’re tracking our blog. I concur with your point, and I’m still puzzled by the lack of uptake. Smart-growth advocates, as one example, have so much to gain from land-value taxation, yet only a few of us ever mention that policy instrument. I hear more about low-yield policy instruments such as transfers of development rights from smart-growth advocates than I do land-value taxes.What do others think?
Alan,If I may, you are puzzled by the lack of uptake not because you concur with cliff’s point, but because perhaps you don’t understand it. Cliff is echoing the DOE lament that a policy instrument isn’t going to get people hopping up and down, clapping in joy. The better path is to change the value system first, then policy comes from that. wrt Smart-growth advocates’ policy instruments in the context of Alan’s and Cliff’s comments above, more effective would be to frame a narrative of (whatever, fill in the blank: taxation or density or new development) tied to values of, say, home ownership, Manifest Destiny and dreams of a nice life rather than fixing sprawl and making cost savings; after all, lots of folks are living in sprawl and calling their house ugly sprawl & unacceptable development isn’t working. The only thing people hate more than sprawl is density. So what we are doing could be working much better, and the reason is because what we are doing isn’t tied to values and dreams. Ask Eric, Alan, about dreams in the context of the land-use debate and my comments here. that is: what is land? Is it some two-dimensional parcel or is it the reason why we dream at night? If it’s the latter, do we also dream of compelling policy instruments at night? No? Is that why leaders don’t hear about the benefits of taxation instruments from their constituents?Best regards,
Tax Shifting sounds like a brilliant idea, and seems like something politicians could be talking a lot more about.In my humble attempts to keep up with the above fascinating discussion, however, there’s a sentence which I’m having trouble understanding. It’s this one from Alan’s original post:”What [leaders] don’t know is that their constituents want land-value taxes (which is likely because those constituents don’t know about the benefits of land-value taxation).”Perhaps I’m misinterpreting, but, if constituents want land-value taxes, then wouldn’t it also logically follow that they know about the benefits of land-value taxation?… Just trying to learn more about Tax Shifting, myself, here, and would appreciate help in deciphering that sentence. Thanks!
The CGO is interested in hosting a west coast conference in 2008, but we can’t seem to get close to the Northwest. (FYI: Alan was a (& an excellent one at that) speaker at the group’s 1998 Portland, OR conference.). We just can not find locations with good airlift which are affordable during the summer months.TRUCE, we are no powerhouse, but we DO NOT GIVE UP!
Dan,There are plenty of dream-based (or, I’d say, values-based) movements whose dreams would advance in the world if they were to embrace land-value taxes. For examples: smart-growth advocates, anti-poverty groups, community development organizations, mothers against drunk driving.I agree that most people are moved by their values/identity and their beliefs about how the world should be, not by policy proposals. My puzzlement is that basically none of the existing values-based movements have added land-value taxes to their quiver of policy recommendation.Michelle,It was an unsuccessful attempt at irony. I don’t think most people want land-value taxes. I don’t think most people have ever heard of them.sns,What’s “airlift” mean in your comment?
Alan,Thanks. I guess irony is one of those rhetorical devices that only works amongst those who have previous knowledge of the subject.:-)… But since I’m still new to this issue, it seems like you’re shooting yourself in the foot by replying that you “don’t think most people want land-value taxes,” and yet saying to Dan in that same reply, “values-based movements … would advance in the world if they were to embrace land-value taxes.”Since you yourself are a good leader, it would be nice for a new-comer like me to understand which side of the issue you personally embrace, since in this particular post you seem to be talking out of both sides of your mouth 😉
Hmm.I’m still not being clear. What I mean is that most people want the outcomes that land-value taxes would bring: great tax fairness, greater economic efficiency, less sprawl, more jobs, stronger town centers, healthier farm and forest lands, less traffic, less pollution, fewer car crashes, less climate change, and more investment in maintaining and improving buildings.But most people do not know that land-value taxes, because they are an obscure and somewhat confusing policy instrument, would provide those benefits.The way that complicated policy instruments usually get converted into public policies is through the mediating role of social and political movements. The movements are mostly peopled by people not deeply passionate about the policy details but by people deeply passionate about the outcomes.And there are several movements that one might expect would promote, at the policy level, land-value taxes. And yet, very few do. That’s puzzling.That’s all for me on this string.
Got it. Thanks for your patience here!(Feel free to pick up this string again, if you wish.)All those outcomes that you’ve listed, above, sound exactly like Sightline’s interests all rolled into one great solution: Land-value taxes. If more people knew that all of those personal (and public) issues could be solved in one great swoop, through land-value taxes, then surely they’d see the benefit of such taxes, and choose to promote them.Perhaps Sightline could play an even greater role here? You (usually) explain such complex issues very well 😉
Hi, all.Green tax shifting can fit into a paradigm shift, a new world view with alternative values. That’s a new movement we’re trying to midwife. See geonomics.org for up-to-date news. Ciao.
Perhaps one reason that LVT isn’t getting any traction, at least as long is it is associated with the “smart-growth” movement, is that people inherently, although not yet commonly explicitly, understand that smart-growth is an oxymoron, and thus it is easy to discount anything associated with it.I still find it hard to fathom why people who are as intimately aware of the ecological and social crises facing the world today as Alan and all the other people associated with Sightline are, continue to use the term smart-growth. What we should be advocating is sustainable development as articulated within the framework of the Earth Charter. This would provide a common set of values that cuts across our current political divide.The human species has surpassed the planet’s carrying capacity. More growth is no longer an option that can be seriously considered. As Eben Fodor points out, smart growth gets us to the same place as dumb growth, we just get there first-class. Sustainable development provides a process that is congruent with natural systems principles, and I think it is past time to be honest and explicitly state that sustainable development necessarily includes population declines and a shift to localized steady-state economies. Using the term smart-growth appears to be an attempt to appease, or compromise with, the acolytes of the Industrial Growth Society and their practice of economic cannibalism. But how can one possibly compromise with an ideology that is inherently destructive? Are we willing to accept a system that is only half destructive?
Dave, changing the name to something else doesn’t provide a set of values that folks can put their arms around. The goals and values of smart growth (I don’t care for the term either) are the same as sustainable development.
Site value taxation makes people nervous in neighborhoods close to the urban core, and with reason. When I worked for the DC City Council in the 1970s, these neighborhoods were mostly black, or funky and “alternative”, or a mixture of the two. (e.g. Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Shaw, Inner Capitol Hill.) They already were dealing with intense speculation. Site value taxation could easily seem another device to move the current residents out. The mantra of “highest and best use” did not seem to include them.It is true that a lot of those people were moved out anyway, by gentrification. It is true that zoning and neighborhood protection is needed in any case. Still the atmospherics become thorny and the distrust is great. Not many Washingtonians would want a high-rised Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan,even gentrified ones; and both the economics and polemics of site value taxation seem to point that way.
A couple of points from my experiences.CGO—“ragtag”, maybe too kind. All very well intended people (god love them) but they couldn’t organize their way out of open room and pretty much are irrelevant to mainstream implementation of either techniques, how one goes about changing values, the nitty gritty of sausage making which all legislation (especially “tax reform”) involves, or the kinds of motivaters involved.Cliff’s careful distinction between technique and value is well noted, but Brunori’s study (I presume that’s what we are talking about) is misleading, in my opinion. I’ve asked Brunori more than once for the raw data and actual instrument used; polite hems and haws, but no opportunity for me to review the original research. I requested the information because I have been involved with the last 6 LVT bills in last three years introduced in Maryland. I wrote them and got them introduced verbatim, and I testified before Committees and talked with a lot of legislators.2/3 of legislators do NOT know or understand land value taxation.A. Response rate was too low and I think raw data will show uneven. Brunori is from DC, so he is going to get a lot more responses from VA and MD who have heard of GWU and see the DC address. In VA and MD quite a bit of education about LVT had been done. 6 MD bills in last 3 years and 2 successful local option bills passed in VA for Fairfax and Roanoke.B. People lie about what they know or have heard of. No check for this halo effect so far as I can see without the actual instrument. And it is the staffers that fill this stuff out. So they google “LVT” and say they know about it.C. Saying that you’ve heard about something doesn’t mean that you actually understand it. (I’ve talked ostensible supporters and even cosponsors who don’t actually understand the mechanics of LVT or the expectable aims!)D. Legislation and state legislators don’t work by means of “general” undirected percolation of ideas.On this last point, Cliff is correct about the need for passion. Most legislators have 2 or 3 key things in mind for their legislative agenda, in part because that is how people are and in part because the system of committees and committee assignments forces this kind of niche idea formation.Most legislators defer to the niche expert colleagues and to the leadership on most bills.So, even if it was 2/3ds, it doesn’t matter because it is 2/3 of leadership, plus the right niche expert legislator(s) who has(have) a passion to run with it, that matters (plus no opposition from a Committee Chair). For example, this last session, we focused on a Baltimore City local option bill. By request, I testified in front of the Baltimore City Delegation. The City Delegation voted 10-2 in support of the local option and by custom and rules the bill should have received constitutional local courtesy. The Way and Means Committee chair blocked the legislation from getting out Committee to the House Floor. Why, who the heck knows. One veteran, suggested that maybe the problem was that it wasn’t “her idea” was the problem. But there were other complex motivators. In other words, the motivators may involve issues as complex as who gets the credit and what can you trade for it!Even when you have passionate legislator, the idea must still appear to be “mainstream.” Dennis the Menace Kucinich is passionate but god bless him he isn’t yet mainstream enough to really matter. One more run for president can either make him more mainstream or less mainstream; it all depends, you know.I think the transformation of the property tax, even though “a technique”, is a powerful tool to transform values. And so now you have some passionate, mainstream and well-connected local people in nearly two dozen plus PA cities, whose hook into the passion was the “technique” that Steve Cord took around in the 1980s like a Fuller Brush guy.What Cord did in 80s just ain’t gonna to cut it today because people with have computers and the internet and blogs and nobody has to be ignorant of anything so long as there is “Google”.But I do think that these tools (below, which we invented to make our Maryland case for introduction of the legislation) are the kind of thing that can use a technique as a hook into moving values from the margins to the mainstream to the main street:www.marylandlandtax.orgwww.newjerseylandvaluetax.orgwww.washingtonlandvaluetax.orgwww.indianalandvaluetax.orgwww.newyorklandvaluetax.orgJohn David Kromkowski