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Nic Tideman: The Case for Site Value Rating
The Social Justice of Site Value Rating
The Efficiency of Site Value Rating
How Valuations would be Made
Both for reasons of social justice and for reasons of economic efficiency, site value rating deserves a continued place in the programme of the Liberal Party.
The case for site value rating in terms of social justice is founded on two understandings: first, that the value of land in the absence of economic development is the common heritage of humanity, and second, that increases in the rental value of land arising from economic development and government expenditures should be collected by governments to finance those activities. What is meant by "land" is the unimproved value of sites and the value of extractable natural resources such as North Sea oil.
While there may someday be institutions capable of implementing a recognition of land as the heritage of all humanity on a worldwide basis, in the absence of such institutions each nation should implement a recognition that land within its boundaries is the common heritage of its citizens. This is accomplished not by making the nation a gigantic Common or by instituting government management of all land, but rather by requiring all persons and corporations that are granted the use of land to pay a fee or tax equal to what the rental value of the land they control would be if it were in an unimproved condition.
The case for site value rating in terms of economic efficiency is founded on the fact that a tax on resources that are not produced by human effort is one of the few sources of government revenue that does not reduce incentives for people to be productive. Two other revenue sources that have this virtue are taxes on other government-granted privileges such as exclusive use of radio frequencies and taxes on activities with harmful consequences, such as polluting the air. An economy will be more efficient if revenue sources that do not diminish productivity are employed to the greatest possible extent before any use is made of taxes that impede productivity.
What makes a tax efficient is that the amount of tax that is due cannot be reduced by reducing productive activities. When incomes are taxed, people can reduce the amount of taxes owed by working less. They do so, and the productivity of the economy falls. When houses are taxed, people can reduce the amount of taxes owed by building fewer house and smaller houses. They do so, and the housing shortage worsens. But when the unimproved value of land is taxed, there is no resulting diminution in the quantity of land. Thus taxes can be levied on land without diminishing the productivity of an economy. And shifting taxes from other, destructive bases to land will improve the productivity of an economy.
Subsequent sections explain in more detail these social justice and efficiency arguments for site value rating, describe procedures for implementing such a tax system, and explain why a variety of potential objections are without merit. ...
The general principle that is applied in site value rating is that everyone pays for the naturally created and publicly created resources they use. There are a number of ways in which this principle can be extended. Where driving in crowded cities adds noticeably to the travel costs of others, there should be charges corresponding to those costs, provided that the administrative costs of implementing such a system are not so great as to outweigh the benefits of resulting improvements in traffic flows. Activities such as the consumption of alcohol that have socially adverse consequences should be taxed according to the costs of those consequences. Public services--gas, electricity, telephone, water, sewerage, transportation, etc.--whether publicly or privately owned, are best financed by a combination of charges on users and charges on land. Each user should be required to pay the addition to costs that results from serving him or her. The component of costs that is not covered by such charges on users can be recovered by collecting the increase in land values that comes from provision of public services.... Read the whole article
Nic Tideman: Applications of Land Value Taxation to Problems of Environmental Protection, Congestion, Efficient Resource Use, Population, and Economic Growth
III. Applications to Congestion
The logic of efficient environmental protection applies with few changes to issues of congestion. Parking meters are simple example of the application of land value taxation to solving a problem of congestion. If there is a shortage of parking places (at a zero price) then the introduction of parking meters (charging rent for the use of land) can relieve the shortage. Ideally, the price of a parking meter should vary by time of day to reflect variations in the demand for parking places. The ideal fee would equate supply and demand at each time of day, with lanes of streets devoted to parking only where the revenue generated by the parking fees exceeds the value of the additional lane in speeding traffic. Perhaps in a few years we will have parking meters with prices that vary by time of day. We certainly have the technology. In the meantime, we get by with meters that charge a single price throughout the part of the day when demand is greatest.
Charging rent for parking is only a small step from charging rent for cars that are moving on city streets. The more cars there are on the streets, the slower everyone goes. The marginal cost of having one more car on the streets is the value of the extra travel time that everyone else endures because of the one additional car. In many places, the congestion cost of traffic is less than the cost of administering a system of congestion fees. But this is not the case everywhere. William Vickrey used to say that his estimate of the cost in additional delays of having one more car in midtown Manhattan in the middle of the day was about $20,000 per hour. He would go on to say that this did not imply that people should be charged $20,000 per hour for using the streets of midtown Manhattan. He had estimated marginal cost at the present level of usage. The efficient charge -- perhaps $25 per hour -- would reduce use of the streets so greatly that the marginal congestion cost of street usage would equal the price. Efficient congestion prices for using the streets of Manhattan (or Boston or other large cities) would not merely charge for ordinary usage but would also entail special charges for anyone who double-parked or parked in some other illegal way that created congestion. If we could keep track of the movements of vehicles, then for any vehicle that stood still ahead of backed-up vehicles that wanted to move, there would be a charge for the resulting congestion cost, which would be quite high. Companies making deliveries to downtown areas might decide that it was far better to make deliveries at night than to tie up the streets in the day.
Congestion charges also apply to bottlenecks such as bridges and tunnels. Whenever such a facility has cars backed up seeking to use it, efficiency is improved by applying a toll that reduces demand to capacity. The same output is produced, revenue is generated, and the waste of queuing is avoided.
The efficiency of congestion pricing would also apply to such public facilities as airports and parks. When airlines want to have more take-offs and landings than an airport can accommodate, it is efficient and just to allocate take-off and landing slots by price. Unfortunately, Congress, at the behest of airlines, has prohibited airports from doing this, requiring them instead to allocate take-off and landing slots by non-price means.
In Central Park in New York, there are fewer baseball fields than are demanded at a zero price. There is a private company that has the right and responsibility to organize the leagues that are allowed to use the fields. This company is able to charge fees that implicitly include the scarcity value of the fields. A recognition that the parks are the common heritage of everyone in the city would lead instead to a charge for using the ball fields that equated supply and demand.
There are also applications of
congestion prices at an
international level. For example, there may be congestion in
geosynchronous orbits for satellites. If this should occur, then
the just thing to do is to charge market-clearing rents for
geo-synchronous orbits and share the proceeds among all nations in
proportion to their populations. ... Read the entire article
Nic Tideman: Using Tax Policy to Promote Urban Growth
The efficiency that is entailed in using the rent of land to finance public activities applies to certain other sources of public revenue as well:
1. Charges on any publicly granted privileges, such as the exclusive right to use a portion of the frequency spectrum for radio and TV broadcasts.
of the above taxes are positively beneficial and should be
collected even if the revenue is not needed for public purposes. Any
excess can be returned to the population on an equal per capita
basis. If these attractive sources of revenue do not suffice to
finance necessary public expenditures, then the least damaging
additional tax would probably be a "poll tax," a uniform charge on
all residents. If some residents are regarded to be incapable of
paying such a tax, then the next most efficient tax is a proportional
tax on income up to some specified amount. Then there is no
disincentive effect for all persons who reach the tax limit. The next
most efficient tax is a proportional tax on all income. Read the whole article
Herbert J. G. Bab: Property Tax -- Cause of Unemployment (circa 1964)
Property taxes shape the pattern of our cities.
Relatively low taxes on land and high taxes on improvements will discourage the owners of vacant lots or underdeveloped land, such as that used for parking lots, gas stations, hamburger stands, etc., from improving their land. It will encourage them to keep the land out of use and to sell later at a profit. This will create an artificial shortage of land, which in turn will lead to urban blight and irregular, leapfrog city growth.
This urban sprawl makes our cities look ugly, but it has many disadvantages besides:
It is generally believed that zoning laws are a very effective tool to control the growth of our cities. Zoning laws determine the best possible use of urban land. Yet nobody can be forced to improve his land and to build unless there is an incentive. This can be achieved by taxing land at a rate that will make it unprofitable to hold it without improving it.
The city planner needs land taxation just as he needs zoning laws. With both these tools the orderly growth of our cities will be assured, but -- as experience has shown -- without land taxation rational and efficient land usage becomes impossible. Read the whole article
Bill Batt: Stemming Sprawl: The Fiscal Approach
... The failure to collect site rent leads to a distortion in land use configurations. If patterns unfolded along the lines of both social preference and economic efficiency, high value landsites would tend to have high value buildings, and low value landsites would tend to be vacant or have very modest buildings. Consistent with this, urban centers sites would tend to have office and commercial use, surrounded by lower-value residential land uses, and still further out would be farms and forests. The ratio of building to land value, land to total value (or for that matter any other ratio between buildings, land, and total values) would be relatively constant throughout a region. Instead, the ratio of land value to total value consistently tends to reveal a patchwork of random development. This inefficient settlement of land sites is what we know as sprawl.
Land Rent is Capitalized Transportation Cost
There is another dimension to the distortion of land use in contemporary life. That is the heavy subsidy granted to motor vehicle transportation services. Estimates are that the typical driver pays only about a tenth of the true cost of his travel; society picks up the rest. This profuse subsidy paid to private automobile and truck transportation further encourages people to locate on sites at far greater distances from where they would choose than if they had to pay the full burden of that travel.
From the standpoint of an economic geographer, and for some land economists, land rent is simply capitalized transportation cost. Land rent is the surplus generated by social activity on or in the vicinity of locational sites which accrues to titleholders of those parcels. Whether or not it is recaptured by public policy, rent is a natural factor deriving from the intensive use of natural capital. More intensive use of high value landsites leads to site configurations that are less dependent upon transportation services. People can access them easily even by walking. One must remember that transportation is not an end in itself but rather a means. This is something often forgotten even by urban planners, the distinction between accessibility and mobility. As explained well in a recent text, The Geography of Urban Transportation:
Accessibility refers to the number of opportunities, also called activity sites, available within a certain distance or travel time. Mobility refers to the ability to move between different activity sites (e.g., from home to a grocery store).(4)
The result is that we do an awful lot of traveling to get what and where we want. We have paid enormously for mobility even at the expense of access. Subsidizing motor vehicle transportation makes the problem worse! Author Kirkpatrick Sale recognized this when he argued that
Cities are meant to stop traffic. That is their point. That is why they are there. That is why traders put outposts there, merchants put shops there, hostellers erect inns there. That is why factories locate there, why warehouses, assembly plants, and distribution centers are established there. That is why people settle and cultural institutions grow there. No one wants to operate in a place that people are just passing through; everyone wants to settle where people will stop, and rest, and look around, and talk, and buy, and share.(5) ...
Public opinion polls are practically unanimous in their demonstration of the kind of environment most Americans say they would like to live in.(16) Sociological studies have documented graphically how alienating the car-dependent environment really is. There is an inverse correlation between the ability of a street to move and to park cars and trucks, and the amount of social interaction between neighbors on that street. One study two decades ago compared three similar residential streets in San Francisco, with different levels of traffic volumes. Residents on the different streets were asked to indicate on the base maps of their streets where friends and acquaintances lived. Those living on streets with the least traffic volume had three times as many friends and twice as many acquaintances as those living on the streets with heavy traffic volumes.(17)(18) More recently Harvard Professor Robert Putnam has made similar findings in his book Bowling Alone, and concluded that every ten minutes of additional commuting time means ten percent less time devoted to communal activity. Driving is no longer regarded as fun, not on today's typically congested highways. There was a time when most people drove cars for pleasure; today people resent their having to drive so much and often see driving as a burden.(19) It is also no accident also that on measures of livability, those locations regarded as most attractive are also the ones that are most bicycle-friendly.(20) A number of recent books and their popularity reflect resentment over our forced dependency on motor vehicle transportation Jane Holtz Kay's Asphalt Nation, Clay McShane's Down the Asphalt Path, Wolfgang Zuckerman's End of the Road, and Katie Alford's Divorce Your Car are only a few such examples.(21) But despite their vague discomfort people typically lack the perspicacity to incorporate these non-pecuniary costs into their decisions about locational choice. ...
The last dimension of motor vehicle transportation charges can be designed to reflect the costs of congestion. To some extent, those costs are already borne by drivers since they pay in the value of their time for that lost by slowed traffic. But not everyone's time has the same value, and proper pricing of road use reflective of time and place is an attractive solution to maintaining the efficient flow of highway service. Here again, electronic road pricing can help with efficiency.... read the whole article
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper