2. Taxing “preemptive” capital. Some capital serves its owner to
preempt common lands. An example is a large, fast, noisy, dangerous,
polluting motorboat on a small lake. Thousands of small lakes would
in effect be made larger, in terms of satisfying human wants, by
taxing or banning such craft.
A more common example is the
preemption of space on streets and
highways by vehicles. Many modern Georgists have a blind spot
- They recognize the wisdom of parking meters, and see them as an
example of applied Georgism.
- They have more trouble seeing that
moving vehicles also occupy scarce, valuable public space, and should
pay for it. The Georgist tradition is to see things that move as
productive, and to avoid hindering them. It is a good reflex, a
needed antidote to the more general bias of our tax systems and other
institutions to “shoot anything that moves.”
In this case,
though, the moving vehicle actually preempts even more space than the
parked one, and needs to be constrained.
The problems are formidable of
designing optimal taxes on and
controls over moving vehicles; and even moreso when we see them
holistic terms, as part of recasting our whole approach to mass
transportation, and integrating it with massive reforms of land
settlement patterns. Those are, however, the modern problems we
should address. In doing so, we can do no better than think of
ourselves as applying George’s principle that land – space
on the surface of the earth – is common property.
Offroad vehicles are another
obvious example. Part of our great
secular superstition about property is the notion that a piece of
capital equipment is as sacred as, or more sacred than persons
themselves: that the vehicle endows its owner with more rights to
public space than the simple possession of two legs. This may
back to centuries of deference to mounted warriors, but is also
encouraged today by merchants who see motorists as bearing more cash
than pedestrians. Above all, those who foster this attitude are the
makers and sellers of vehicles, fuels, and paving materials.
Surfboards make another example, but once one gets the basic idea,
one can furnish scores of additional examples of preemptive capital.
To tax such capital is, in effect, to tax the grabbing of common
lands by the owners of the capital. Sometimes regulation or banning
is the better choice, depending on particulars, but the principle is
Georgist: recognize land as common property, and take measures to
assert that common ownership. ... read the whole article