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Many of our social problems can be traced to housing affordability. If we were able to make housing more affordable, many more of us would have enough money to support our families and save for retirement. People might choose to marry earlier, have children earlier, live their lives differently. They would have shorter commutes, use less fuel and less time getting from home to work and back.
It isn't the house itself that is expensive: it is the land. (A 2006 Federal Reserve Board study showed that on average in the top 46 metro markets in 2004, 50% of the value of single family residential property was land value, and in San Francisco, the figure was above 85%.) We can make more houses; we can't make more land and all land is not equally desirable. Those who say that it is zoning restrictions that raise the price of housing are only partially correct. The perverse incentives we use are a much larger factor.
Everett Gross: Explaining Rent
H.G. Brown: Significant Paragraphs from Henry George's Progress & Poverty: 10. Effect of Remedy Upon Wealth Production (in the unabridged P&P: Part IX — Effects of the Remedy: Chapter 1 — Of the effect upon the production of wealth)
Louis Post: Outlines of Louis F. Post's Lectures, with Illustrative Notes and Charts (1894) — Appendix: FAQ
Weld Carter: An Introduction to Henry George
Another area in which George applied these inherent differences between land and products was the field of taxation. To determine the incidence of taxation, George had to know what was to be taxed, products or the value of land. In each case he traced out the effect from the essential nature of the thing to be taxed: "...all taxes upon things of unfixed quantity increase prices, and in the course of exchange are shifted from seller to buyer, increasing as they go. ...If we impose a tax upon buildings, the users of buildings must finally pay it, for the erection of buildings will cease until building rents become high enough to pay the regular profit and the tax besides. ...In this way all taxes which add to prices are shifted from hand to hand, increasing as they go, until they ultimately rest upon consumers, who thus pay much more than is received by the government. Now, the way taxes raise prices is by increasing the cost of production, and checking supply. But land is not a thing of human production, and taxes upon...[land value] cannot check supply. Therefore, though a tax on...[land value] compels the land owners to pay more, it gives them no power to obtain more for the use of their land, as it in no way tends to reduce the supply of land. On the contrary, by compelling those who hold land on speculation to sell or let for what they can get, a tax on land values tends to increase the competition between owners, and thus to reduce the price of land."
Here, then is another derivative difference between land and products, according to George: taxation on products causes an increase in the price of products; taxation on the value of land causes a drop in the price of land. ... read the whole article
John Dewey: Steps to Economic Recovery
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.
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 Social Justice of Site Value Rating
In primitive societies, land is generally regarded as not ownable. No one made the land, so how can anyone own it? Ownership generally originates in conquest. In England, titles to land originated in the claim of William the Conqueror to own all the land because he was king. He granted to dukes, earls, etc. the right to collect rent from designated territories in exchange for their promises to fulfill various obligations to him. In the seventeenth century the nobility succeeded in removing all of their obligations to the crown, but they retained their rights to land. A substantial part of the great inequality in wealth in the United Kingdom can be traced to ancient patents of nobility that granted rights to collect rent.
One highly visible consequence of allowing land rents to be privately appropriated is that young people find it nearly impossible to buy houses. The price of a "house," in the Southeast of Britain at least, is primarily the price of land. If the rent of land were collected publicly, the price of land would be inconsequential, and the price of a house would be the cost of the materials and labour that went into building it. It should be recognized that if the site value of land were taxed, the payment of such taxes would make it more expensive to live in large cities than in small towns, but young people would be better able to afford it because other taxes would be reduced, and the mortgages to which people would need to commit themselves would not be nearly as great.Nic Tideman: Basic Tenets of the Incentive Taxation Philosophy
... if the full rental value of land is collected through site value rating, then the sale value of unimproved land will fall to approximately zero. The sale value of houses will fall to the value of the houses themselves. ... Read the whole article
Making Housing Affordable
The implementation of our ideas would have a dramatic effect in making housing more affordable. The principal reason why housing costs have risen so much is that the price of land has risen enormously. Some increase in the price of access to land is a natural accompaniment of an increasing population.
But the very great increases of recent years, which have made it nearly impossible for young families to afford houses of their own, have additional causes. The implementation of our ideas would bring down the price of access to land in three ways.
Fred Foldvary: Geo-Rent: A Plea to Public Economists
One bids less for land that has tax liabilities and on which profits are lower. Untax the economy, and the economy would produce greater output, which would be capitalized into higher geo-rent.
Michael Hudson: The Lies of the Land: How and why land gets undervalued
Turning land-value gains into capital gains
Hiding the free lunch
Two appraisal methods
How land gets a negative value!
Where did all the land value go?
A curious asymmetry
Site values as the economy's "credit sink"
Immortally aging buildings
Real estate industry's priorities
THE FREE LUNCH Its cost to citizens Its cost to the economy
THE FREE LUNCH: Its cost to citizens
The recycling of savings into new mortgage lending has fueled an economy-wide inflation of asset prices for land, homes, and commercial properties, as well as stock market and bond prices. If what rises in value is mainly the land site, then the property owners appear as passive beneficiaries enjoying a free lunch. The property is their major asset and the mortgage their major debt. While doing little to increase the value of the building beyond having picked a good location and making the normal maintenance, they ride the crest of asset-price inflation of land . Indeed, take-home earnings have drifted down over the past two decades, but house prices have soared.
These "capital gains" for households are part of the new phenomenon that has been popularized as "labor capitalism." As Margaret Thatcher's crowd has put it, "Sorry you've lost your job; I hope you've made a killing on your Council House or home in the real estate market." The free lunch.
For the two-thirds of America's and Britain's populations who are home owners, this free lunch from asset-price inflation of land has proved to be a silver lining in the post-industrial economy. For the remaining third of the population, however, the price of access to home ownership is receding rapidly. Today it hardly is possible for most renters to earn the money to acquire their own homes. The entry price has been bid up too high by those hoping to gain from asset-price inflation even as labor's earnings have been declining.
Its cost to the economy
Once a building has taken all its depreciation, investors have a tax motive to sell the property and buy another. The sales price obviously will be higher if the new buyer can begin depreciating the building all over again, for the property will yield more after-tax revenue. This financial trick turns the real estate sector into a game of musical chairs, while enabling property owners to avoid income taxation. The end result is to free more of their cash flow to pledge to mortgage lenders as interest, in exchange for loans to buy more and more property that is rising in price. This is the anatomy of the dramatic increase in land-prices, called the real estate bubble. The tragedy of modern economies is this divergence of saving away from financing new direct investment and employment, to inflate a financial and real estate bubble. When the bubble bursts there will be little new tangible wealth creation to show for it, only a wave of insolvency, bankruptcy and foreclosures as the Western economies begin to look more like that of Japan since its bubble burst a decade ago. America's and Europe's largest economic expansion may similarly give way to a long depression. Its cause will remain invisible as long as the politically powerful real estate interests keep getting land undevalued and its income masked as capital gains on the national income and product accounts ... Read the whole article
William F. Buckley, Jr.: Home Dear Home
Jeff Smith: Share Rent, Transform Society
Mason Gaffney: How to Revive a Dying City
Georgist policy has been shown as a means to revive dying cities, and in the process to reconcile equity and efficiency; to reconcile supply-side economics with taxation; to reconcile capital formation with taxation of the rich. It can be seen as a means of harmonizing collectivism and individualism, in the most constructive ways possible. I know of no other program whose proponents can even make such claims, let alone substantiate them. In a world that has already priced younger people out of the real estate market, we should find George's program worth our intense study and support. Read the whole articleMason Gaffney: Full Employment, Growth And Progress On A Small Planet: Relieving Poverty While Healing The Earth
It is not that George or his allies are against homeownership. Georgist tax reform makes it easier for first-time buyers to enter the market, and tends to raise the number of owner-occupants. However that sometimes entails inducing Type #3 speculators, melded in among existing homeowners, to let go of excess land they do not need. That basic point gets lost when campaigners pitch their message solely to existing homeowners, lumping them all as a class. Read the whole articleWalter Rybeck: What Affordable Housing Problem?
Like all creatures -- goldfinches, squirrels, butterflies, cicadas -- we humans are squatters on this planet. We all need a part of earth for shelter, nourishment, a work site and a place to raise the next generation. Otherwise we perish. ...
In the 1980s, Washington, D.C., was concerned about its growing army of homeless. At that time I found there were 8,000 boarded-up dwelling units in our Nation's Capital -- more than enough to accommodate some 5,000 street people. I also found there were 11,500 privately owned vacant lots in the District of Columbia, mostly zoned for and suitable for homes or apartments. Decent housing on these sites held in cold storage would have provided an alternative for the many low-income families squatting in places that were overcrowded, overpriced, overrun with vermin and overloaded with safety hazards.
These issues spurred my research described in a 1988 report, "Affordable Housing -- A Missing Link." Evidence from the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources over a 30-year period revealed the following average cost increases of items that go into the building and maintenance of housing:
Why do those statistics not seem to jibe with what you have been told, seen with your own eyes, and felt in your own pocketbooks?
The answers would be obvious except that, so far, I have not mentioned what happened to the price of the land that housing sits on. Many of those who talk and write about housing conveniently overlook the fact that housing does not exist in mid air but is attached to the land, and that the price of this land has gone through the stratosphere.
In contrast to those 11- to 14-percent annual increases in housing-related costs, residential land values nationwide rose almost 80 percent a year, or almost 2000 percent over those three decades. ...
A close friend in Bethesda bought a house and lot there 40 years ago for $20,000. Two months ago he sold the property for a cool half million. That 2400 percent increase was entirely land value. The buyer immediately demolished the house to put up a larger one, so he clearly paid half a million for the location value -- the land value -- alone.
Officials, civic leaders and commentators who bemoan the lack of affordable housing nevertheless applaud each rise in real estate values as a sign of prosperity. Seeing their own assets multiply through no effort of their own apparently makes them forget the teachers, firemen, police and low-income people who are boxed out of a place to squat in their cities and neighborhoods. ...
Many of our Founding Fathers, George Washington included, had amassed huge estates. But the property tax induced them to sell off excess lands they were not using. ...
One of the many virtues of a tax on land values is that it can be introduced gradually. Cities that take this incremental approach report that homeowners-voters-taxpayers hardly notice the change. What's important in modernizing your taxation is not the speed of change but the direction you choose. If you keep the present tax system with its disincentives for compact and wholesome growth, you will experience the treadmill effect that has been so familiar in so-called urban and housing "solutions." You will have to keep running faster and faster with patchwork remedies to keep from sliding backward.
A caution. Revising taxes as proposed here will not end the need for housing subsidies, at least not in the short run, but it will do three things that should greatly reduce subsidies.
In Conclusion, I have tried to show that America has a housing land problem, not an affordable housing problem. This problem can be substantially alleviated by freeing the market of anti-enterprise taxes and by turning the property tax right side up -- that is, by dropping tax rates on housing and by raising them on publicly-created land values. Read the whole article
Mason Gaffney: The Red and the Blue
Several modern economists minimize the role of land prices in home values. Thomas Sowell, now a voguish columnist, was only recently a Professor of Economics at U.C.L.A. Sowell endorses Professors Edward L. Glaeser of Harvard and Joseph E. Gyourko of the Wharton School, whom he quotes as follows: "America is not facing a nationwide affordable housing crisis. --- In large areas of the country housing costs are quite close to the cost of new construction." These areas "represent the bulk of American housing" and they are areas where "land is quite cheap." I can’t confirm the quote, but it reads like something Glaeser and Gyourko might have written: they also claim that the apparent price of land in Manhattan is only an illusion, the product of zoning laws. The true or “hedonic” price is not much above farmland. How do they figure that? Don’t ask! It’s exclusionary obscurantism at its worst.
In a Brookings paper, housing authority Karl Case of Wellesley and financial prophet Robert Shiller of Yale write on housing. This is a hasty paper, not of the same quality as their previous work, but there it is under their names. They write that housing became more affordable from 1995 to 2003 “in the vast majority of states.” Thus easily they dismiss the minority of states with the majority of the U.S. population and land values, and the highest ratio of land prices to building prices. Metropolitan New York, with 10% of the U.S. population, and a higher percentage of its land value, is a big chunk of the U.S.A. all by itself.
3,000 miles west, Deborah Reid of the Public Policy Institute of California delivers a parallel locution: “there is no housing shortage in California outside of Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and San Diego.” Yes, and Switzerland is all flat, outside of The Alps. Is this a new conventional wisdom to help vitriolic columnists like Sowell ignore land values? Read the whole 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. ...Jeff Smith: What To Do About the Real Estate Bubble
Another resource-consumptive segment of the economy is construction. Developers now profit from value. Losing that to land dues, they'd seek a replacement income. They'd be inclined to use cheaper recycled materials and build homes of higher value, with more insulation, heat exchangers, light tubes, rain cachements, a front for the street and a face for the south, fiber-optic wiring for the computerized building, edible landscaping, etc.
Many building codes mandate certain features (thick insulation, smoke detectors, etc). All these add-ons raise improvement value which the polity then taxes. The PTS repeals the penalty for improving structures. Another current obstacle to more efficient construction is that renters, unlike owners, have little vested interest in upgrading the structure. Lower land prices put more people into their own homes. As owner occupants, people tend to be more motivated to plug heat leaks and conserve energy, thereby slowing climate change. ...
First-time home buyers make out like bandits. They'd pay a higher land dues to their community but lower total taxes to government, a lower price to the seller, and a lower mortgage to the lender. Is it fair that one group should benefit so prodigiously? Yes. In many US cities, renters now outnumber owners. High rates of tenancy, as shown in Goldschmidt's 1940s study of the Central California towns Arvin and Dinuba, engender apathy and indifference, which are bad for democracy, community involvement, street safety, and environmental protection. The sooner young families can become homeowners, the better off all members of society will be.
A big problem needs a big solution which in turn needs a matching shift of our prevailing paradigm. Geonomics -- advocating that we share the social value of sites and natural resources and untax earnings -- does just that. Read the whole article
What’s bubbling, and until when?Herbert J. G. Bab: Property Tax -- Cause of Unemployment -- circa 1964
Sellers are happy. So are developers and speculators. Real estate has gone all bubbly, and that bubble has gone ballistic. What goes up, however, must soon do something else. ...
Actually, it’s not housing whose price has entered the stratosphere. Buildings age – get older, more worn out. What’s getting more valuable is the land, the location – whether it has a building on it or not. Buildings you can make more of, but land you can not, especially locations along the coasts or on the good side of town. None of that would matter if you could ever get buildings to hover around in the air. Meanwhile however, speculators are happy.
... What’s seemingly good for landowners is not necessarily good for the economy. As people spend more on land, something nobody produced, they spend less on output, things people do produce. As producers get less money spent on their products, eventually they take the hint and produce less. "Produce less" is another way of spelling recession.
Plus, more expensive land means heavier borrowing to buy it. More debt means more inflation and less stability. When producers cut back, borrowers have a much harder time paying back their debts. As people go bankrupt, they drag others down with them. A collapsing house of cards is another way of spelling depression.
If land values didn’t get inflated, of course they would not have to get deflated.Call it mutual compensation for deprivation from part of our common natural heritage. While in rhythmic systems, prices must rise and fall, but they need not boom then bust; they could climb then glide. What would temper economies, preventing bubbles? Rather than let a few lucky owners collect land values, neighbors would have to recover land values for themselves. Nobody made land, and no lone owner made its value; the presence of society in general did that. Plus, for excluding everyone else from their sites, owners owe everyone else, as each one of us owes everyone for excluding them.
To recover land value, government could either transform the property tax into a land tax or replace it and other taxes with land dues or land use fees or an annual deed fee. ...
To pay the land dues, owners use their land efficiently; owners who had been speculating get busy and develop. No longer allowed to tax anything that moves, local governments, too, which presently let acres of abandoned urban land and buildings lie fallow, get busy, too, and make sure to get those acres into the hands of ambitious owners who’ll pay land dues. More locations put to use and more buildings put up increases supply, which dampens price.
Better still, as government recovers land rent, that leaves owners with less land rent to capitalize into land price. Hence buyers need not borrow so much. ...
Land would still rise in value. With every discovery of a nearby natural resource. With the opening of every new bridge. With every techno-advance, as silicon wafers did for Silicon Valley. With every jump in income and drop in crime, land value rises. But no longer into a bubble. Because every rise would find its way – via land dues and rent dividends – into everyone’s pockets. ...
If the 18-year average holds for this cycle, then real estate still has a few more years of sucking all the investments and purchasing power out of the rest of the economy. Land is still able to soak it all up, and lenders are still willing to pump more in. So despite the premature panic (markets almost never do what everybody says they’re going to do), Mankiw’s 2007 would be the earliest that the current bubble would burst, and 2008 is just as likely.
Then land prices will fall for a few years. Since the run-up was steep, the drop will be, too – after correcting for inflation, maybe as much as 50%. Which will be an enormous relief for the economy – just what the doctor ordered. With land affordable again, a new cycle can get under way. Whether the new one will be boom and bust or climb and glide is up to us, whether we’re willing to practice geonomics, to forego taxes and subsidies in favor of land dues and a Citizens Dividend.
While I don’t mind the current gambling, I do mind the widening of the cavernous gulf between haves and have-nots, and I boil over while workweek grows more onerous, and just seethe watching vacant lots and abandoned buildings push development out from urban cores to sprawl on suburban farmland. To reverse that, let’s let go of the individual owner’s hold on land rent and share Earth’s worth equitably among us all. We’ll all be glad we did. ... Read the whole article
The steep increase in the level of rentals represents a true and accurate yardstick of our housing shortage. During the period 1950 to 1961
The ever widening gap between the level of rentals and the urban family income constitutes a rental squeeze, which has brought untold misery and hardship to families in the lower income group, especially to those belonging to minority groups. The rental squeeze has also aggravated overcrowding and slum conditions. ...
A defect of our property tax system that is seldom mentioned is that it puts a premium on obsolescence and penalizes new housing. This is so because property taxes are ad valorem taxes. Every piece of real estate except land is subject to depreciation. Thus the owners of old and obsolete real estate will pay little in taxes, while newly constructed buildings will bear the brunt of the tax.
This characteristic of the property tax is obscured by the rising trends of land values, which in many cases offset the loss in value of the improvement. Increases in tax rates and differences in assessment procedures and practices further hide the fact that ad valorem taxes favor obsolete real property.
Let us now turn to that part of the tax that is assessed on land. Increases in population, immigration from the farms and other forces have led to a rapid increase in the population of our large cities and metropolitan areas. Population pressure is bound to increase the value of urban land. Yet an adequate system of land taxation could have prevented the steep rise in urban land values.
Economists agree that taxes on land can not be shifted but are capitalized. For instance a lot having a value of $10,000 -- will have an imputed or expected income of $500 -- assuming a 5% rate of capitalization. A 2-1/2% yearly "ad valorem" tax would reduce the imputed income by $250 -- or 50%. Such a tax would naturally reduce the value of the land by the same percentage.
For these reasons increases in land values can be prevented by taxing land at an appropriate rate. Yet urban land values have increased tremendously during recent years. For instance in Los Angeles county the assessed value of land increased from $1,972 millions in 1952 to $4,002 millions in 1962, an increase of a little over 100%. The assessed values, are supposed to represent 25% of the market value. Thus the unearned increment in land values during this period amounted to not less than $8 billions. Even this figure is an understatement because it is based on assessed values and land is greatly underassessed. While land values have risen by about 10% yearly, property taxes assessed on land averaged about 1.5%. Thus a person owning vacant or underimproved land would have earned about 8 1/2% per year just by withholding land from its proper use.
A higher tax on vacant or unimproved land would make it unprofitable to hold such lands. It will tax land into better use and it will lead to a spurt in construction activity. While all other taxes are deterrents to employment and economic growth, though to a varying extent, land taxes are the only genuine incentive taxes.
Inflated land values must necessarily increase the cost of new homes, the cost of home-ownership and rentals. It discourages residential construction, prices many families out of the housing market and aggravates the housing shortage. ...
Homeowners who bought their homes some time in the past can reap large profits when selling them. Old homes should sell at a lower price, because of the depreciation of the building, but in most cases the depreciation of the building is more than offset by the increased value of the lot. This increased value forces buyers to increase their down payments or to increase their loan are higher, many families are priced out of the market.
We have discussed the sharp increase in the level of rents that has taken place during these last years. These increases reflect the steep rise in land values that have taken place in almost all sections of our cities. The tax assessed on the improvements has discouraged the construction of more and better housing. At the same time, the tax assessed on land has been too low to induce owners to sell, improve, or replace their rental properties....
We have analyzed the effects of property taxation on improvements as distinguished from those caused by the incidence of these taxes on land.
The paradox of property taxation consists in the fact that lower rates on improvements produce the same results as higher rates on land and conversely higher rates on improvements produce the same results as lower rates on land. Read the whole article
Henry Ford Talks About War and Your Future - 1942 interview
Frank Stilwell and Kirrily Jordan: The Political Economy of Land: Putting Henry George in His Place
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper