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Mark Twain Archimedes
I know of a mechanical force more powerful than anything the vaunting engineer of Syracuse ever dreamed of. It is the force of land monopoly; it is a screw and lever all in one; it will screw the last penny out of a man's pocket, and bend everything on earth to its own despotic will. Give me the private ownership of all the land, and will I move the earth? No; but I will do more. I will undertake to make slaves of all the human beings on the face of it. Not chattel slaves exactly, but slaves nevertheless. What an idiot I would be to make chattel slaves of them. I would have to find them salts and senna when they were sick, and whip them to work when they were lazy.
No, it is not good enough. Under the system I propose the fools would imagine they were all free. I would get a maximum of results, and have no responsibility whatever. They would cultivate the soil; they would dive into the bowels of the earth for its hidden treasures; they would build cities and construct railways and telegraphs; their ships would navigate the ocean; they would work and work, and invent and contrive; their warehouses would be full, their markets glutted, and:
That everything they made would belong to me.
It would be this way, you see: As I owned all the land, they would of course, have to pay me rent. They could not reasonably expect me to allow them the use of the land for nothing. I am not a hard man, and in fixing the rent I would be very liberal with them. I would allow them, in fact, to fix it themselves. What could be fairer? Here is a piece of land, let us say, it might be a farm, it might be a building site, or it might be something else - if there was only one man who wanted it, of course he would not offer me much, but if the land be really worth anything such a circumstance is not likely to happen. On the contrary, there would be a number who would want it, and they would go on bidding and bidding one against the other, in order to get it. I should accept the highest offer - what could be fairer? Every increase of population, extension of trade, every advance in the arts and sciences would, as we all know, increase the value of land, and the competition that would naturally arise would continue to force rents upward, so much so, that in many cases the tenants would have little or nothing left for themselves.
In this case a number of those who were hard pushed would seek to borrow, and as for those who were not so hard pushed, they would, as a matter of course, get the idea into their heads that if they only had more capital they could extend their operations, and thereby make their business more profitable. Here I am again. The very man they stand in need of; a regular benefactor of my species, and always ready to oblige them. With such an enormous rent-roll I could furnish them with funds up to the full extent of the available security; they would not expect me to do more, and in the matter of interest I would be equally generous.
would allow them to fix the rate of it themselves in precisely
the same manner as they had fixed the rent. I should then have
by the wool, and if they failed in their payments it would be the
easiest thing in the world to sell them out. They might bewail their
lot, but business is business. They should have worked harder and
been more provident. Whatever inconvenience they might suffer, it
would be their concern, and not mine. What a glorious time I would
have of it! Rent and interest, interest and rent, and no limit to
either, excepting the ability of the workers to pay. Rents would go
up and up, and they would continue to pledge and mortgage, and as
they went bung, bung, one after another, it would be the finest sport
ever seen. thus, from the simple leverage of land monopoly, not only
the great globe itself, but everything on the face of it would
eventually belong to me. I would be king and lord of all, and the
rest of mankind would be my most willing slaves.... Read
the whole piece
Henry George: The Common Sense of Taxation (1881 article)
Jeff Smith and Kris Nelson: Giving Life to the Property Tax Shift (PTS)
John Muir is right. "Tug on any one thing and find it connected to everything else in the universe." Tug on the property tax and find it connected to urban slums, farmland loss, political favoritism, and unearned equity with disrupted neighborhood tenure. Echoing Thoreau, the more familiar reforms have failed to address this many-headed hydra at its root. To think that the root could be chopped by a mere shift in the property tax base -- from buildings to land -- must seem like the epitome of unfounded faith. Yet the evidence shows that state and local tax activists do have a powerful, if subtle, tool at their disposal. The "stick" spurring efficient use of land is a higher tax rate upon land, up to even the site's full annual value. The "carrot" rewarding efficient use of land is a lower or zero tax rate upon improvements. ...
Economic Problems to Solve
Taxing built-value penalizes construction and maintenance of buildings. This deadweight loss on the local economy constrains housing supply and raises land values, driving speculation. Fewer people can then own parcels for homes and businesses, and debt levels increase. ...
PTS Improves the Economy
Land that is higher taxed is lower priced. Cheaper land reduces buyers' debt. Less demand for loans lowers the lending rate. Cheaper capital means more investment and more employment. In Australia, in the province around Melbourne, some towns levy the regular property tax, others tax only land. Those with the same rate for sites and structures suffer more bankruptcies; those with one rate for land enjoy more successful business start-ups. ...
Developers might learn to like the PTS, since financial loss does not necessarily follow.
While the PTS is already gaining attention, there are issues which, were they addressed, would facilitate the spread of the idea.
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper