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LVT and Rent

Henry George: Why The Landowner Cannot Shift The Tax on Land Values (1887)
Here, for instance, is a piece of land that has a value — let it be where it may. Its rent, or value, is the highest price that anyone will give for it — it is a bonus which the man who wants to use the land must pay to the man who owns the land for permission to use it. Nor, if a tax be levied on that rent or value, this in no wise adds to the willingness of anyone to pay more for the land than before; nor does it in any way add to the ability of the owner to demand more. To suppose, in fact, that such a tax could be thrown by landowners upon tenants is to suppose that the owners of land do not now get for their land all it will bring; is to suppose that, whenever they want to, they can put up prices as they please.

This is, of course, absurd. There could be no limit whatever to prices did the fixing of them rest entirely with the seller. To the price which will be given and received for anything, two wants or wills must concur — the want or the will of the buyer, and the want or will of the seller. The one wants to give as little as he can, the other to get as much as he can, and the point at which the exchange will take place is the point where these two desires come to a balance or effect a compromise. In other words, price is determined by the equation of supply and demand. And, evidently, taxation cannot affect price unless it affects the relative power of one or other of the elements of this equation. The mere wish of the seller to get more, the mere wish of the buyer to pay less, can neither raise nor lower prices. Nothing will raise prices unless it either decreases supply or increases demand. Nothing will lower prices unless it either increases supply or decreases demand. Now, the Taxation of Land Values, which is simply the taking by the State of a part of the premium which the landowner can get for the permission to use land, neither increases the demand for land nor decreases the supply of land, and therefore cannot increase the price that the landowner can get from the user. Thus it is impossible for landowners to throw such taxation on land users by raising rents. Other things being unaltered, rents would be no higher than before, while the selling price of land, which is determined by net rents, would be much diminished. Whoever purchased land outright would have to pay less to the seller, because he would thereafter be called on to pay more to the State.

But while the Taxation of Land Values cannot raise rents, it would, especially in a country like this, where there is so much valuable land unused, tend strongly to lower them. In all our cities, and through all the country, there is much land which is not used, or not put to its best use, because it is held at high prices by men who do not want to, or who cannot, use it themselves, but who are holding it in expectation of profiting by the increased value which the growth of population will give to it in the future. Now the effect of the Taxation of Land Values would be to compel these men to seek tenants or purchasers. Land upon which there is no taxation even a poor man can easily hold for higher prices, for land eats nothing. But put heavy taxation upon it, and even a rich man will be driven to seek purchasers or tenants, and to get them he will have to put down the price he asks, instead of putting it up; for it is by asking less, not by asking more, that those who have anything they are forced to dispose of must seek customers. Rather than continue to pay heavy taxes upon land yielding him nothing, and from the future increase in value of which he could have no expectation of profit, since increase in value would mean increased taxes, he would be glad to give it away or let it revert to the State. Thus the dogs in the manger, who all over the country are withholding land that they cannot use themselves from men who would be glad to use it, would be forced to let go their grasp. To tax Land Values up to anything like their full amount would be to utterly destroy speculative values, and to diminish all rents into which this speculative element enters. And how groundless it is to think that landlords who have tenants could shift a tax on Land Values upon their tenants can be readily seen from the effect upon landlords who have no tenants. It is when tenants seek for land, not when landlords seek for tenants, that rent goes up.

To put the matter in a form in which it can be easily understood, let us take two cases. The one, a country where the available land is all in use, and the competition of tenants has carried rents to a point at which the tenant pays the landlord all he can possibly earn save just enough to barely live. The other, a country where all the available land is not in use and the rent that the landlord can get from the tenant is limited by the terms on which the tenant can get access to unused land. How, in either case, if the tax were imposed upon Land Values (or rent), could the landlord compel the tenant to pay it? ... 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