Mason Gaffney: Full Employment, Growth And Progress
On A Small Planet:
Relieving Poverty While Healing The Earth
In forestry, the places to grow commercial timber are lands that
are “flat, wet, and warm,” as John Baden summarizes it. (He might
have added, “accessible.”) Failure to restock such lands economically
pushes demand onto lands that are steep, dry and
cold, creating the “forestry sprawl” from
which we suffer.
Failure to put indigenous waters of southern
California to full economical use creates the appearance of scarcity where
there is actually enough water. It drives demand northwards to the
Owens Valley and the Feather River, and eastward to the Colorado River,
at enormous social cost, much of it for energy. Those who issue doomsday dessication scenarios, and
deplore the loss of water to farming, also seem to have no
idea of how a handful of giant landowners waste most of our water on low-valued
uses like pasture, hay, small grains and rice, using primitive wasteful
methods like flooding, or furrow irrigation. Only 2-3% of
our irrigated lands use basic conservation techniques like drip emitters. Those
who waste water in this way are basically substituting water, a limited
natural resource, for the labor and capital others use to conserve water
higher-valued crops (Gaffney, 1997; Kahrl). ... Read the whole article
Mason Gaffney: Red-Light
Taxes and Green-Light Taxes
II. What is
waste, and what should we do about it?
We are all against wasting
resources: wonderful - but what is
waste? In answering, I will deal with two cognate questions.
- We agree, we should combat waste with a family of green
but what green taxes? When, and where, and why?
- We agree on containing sprawl, but should we stress
people from designated green areas, or attracting them to designated
A. What is waste?
The question has been faced
Pinchot was a leader
with a magic name in the U.S.A. during the early conservation era. He
answered well for his times and, I submit, for ours too.
"... natural resources must be developed and
for the benefit of the many and not merely for the profit of a few. ...
the people shall get their fair share of the benefit which comes from
the development of the country which belongs to us all."
He did not say just "preserved;"
he said "developed and
preserved." Today I suspect he would say "REdevelop," to get away
from the negative baggage carried by "develop;" I certainly will.
Pinchot went on:
"The first principle of conservation is
use of the natural resources now existing ... for the benefit of the
people who live here now. There may be just as much waste in neglecting
the development and use of certain natural resources as there is in
their destruction by waste. ... Conservation, then, stands emphatically
for the use of substitutes (he mentions water for power and
transportation) for all the exhaustible natural resources, ... The
development of our natural resources and the fullest use of them for
the present generation is the first duty of this generation. ...
In the second place conservation stands for the
waste. ... "
So Pinchot was against waste, like
everyone, but he gives it a new
turn (or, rather, an old turn that many have forgotten). To him,
WASTE MEANS FAILING TO USE RENEWABLE RESOURCES. Urban land makes
good example. Urban land, economically speaking, is a lot like
falling water, strange as it seems. Economists (who are not all bad)
classify urban land as a "flow resource." They liken it to flowing
water because its services perish with time, whether used or not -
and we are trapped in the one-way flow of time. It is an even better
example of a "flow resource" than water itself, because unused water
may have other uses downstream. Even in wasting out through
California's Golden Gate, fresh water repels salinity. The unreaped
harvests of idle land, however, flow down the river and out the
Golden Gate of time like lost loves, and magic moments that passed us
by. The waste of NOT using flow resources is just as real as the
waste of misusing exhaustible resources. Indeed, when we tote up the
transportation costs of disintegrated urban settlement patterns, it
is clear that failure to use good urban land is a major cause of
wasting energy. ... read the whole article
Frank Stilwell and Kirrily Jordan: The
Political Economy of Land: Putting Henry George in His Place
Concerns about urban policies also raise questions about the current relevance
of Georgist ideas. For example, it is pertinent to ask whether a more uniform
land tax would encourage the more efficient utilisation of urban space.
George argued that, in order to cover the costs of a higher rate of land
tax, landowners would be forced to put their land to its most productive
use, and could not afford to hold it idle. Here is a clear link with the
modern concerns to discourage ‘urban sprawl’ and to promote ‘urban
consolidation.’ To the extent that a higher land tax would encourage
the development of more housing in existing urban areas, the pressures
for housing development in outlying areas would be significantly reduced.
This, in turn, could reduce the burgeoning demand for transport that is
currently characteristic of large cities.
Land tax also impacts on the politics of peripheral urban expansion. Currently,
the prospect of huge capital gains resulting from decisions by local governments
to rezone land from rural to urban acts as an incentive for landowners on
the fringes of built-up areas to lobby for changes that will allow increased
development. Hence, landowners push for rights to subdivision, irrespective
of whether or not there is actual demand (Day, 1995: 3). By creaming off
the gains from windfall increases in land values, land tax obviates this
bias towards relentless urban expansion.
However, the question remains: would a uniform land tax be sufficient to
produce more efficient patterns of urban development? Or would there still
be a need for direct land use controls? Land tax can certainly be a tool
for discouraging the wasteful use of land. It tends to discourage people
from purchasing excessive amounts of land or leaving it idle. However, it
may also encourage the overdevelopment of land in order to produce the income
stream necessary to pay the higher rate of tax.
Critics of urban consolidation such as Patrick Troy (1996) have examined
the potential problems of such overdevelopment, including a range of environmental
impacts such as altered hydrological processes. It seems to be an overly
bold claim that a Georgist land tax alone would be sufficient to achieve
optimal urban development patterns. Land use controls a necessary adjunct
to land tax - in setting minimum requirements for green space, for example.
Local government planning controls are also important to prevent incompatibility
of land uses, such the development of hazardous or unhealthy industrial activities
adjacent to residential areas. Targeted decentralisation policies are a means
of encouraging the further development of regional centres. Such policies
can work in conjunction with land taxes to ease growth pressures in the larger
cities, while addressing long-standing spatial, social and economic inequalities
(Stilwell, 2000: 254-260). The desirability of promoting more decentralised
regional development is consistent with a Georgist perspective, but not altogether
compatible with the claim that land tax would facilitate urban consolidation.
It seems clear that it ‘overburdens’ land tax to expect it alone
to produce the best spatial outcomes, taking account of all the economic,
social and environmental issues involved in urban and regional policy. The
various other policy instruments – including regulations relating to
green space, zoning, and the provision of public infrastructure to pave the
way for decentralisation – are important complements to land taxation.
In other words, land tax is best regarded as a necessary but not sufficient
condition for more effective spatial policy. ... read
the whole article
Jeff Smith: Sharing Natural Rents to Sustain
To get rich, or more likely to stay rich, some of us can develop land, especially
sprawling shopping centers, and extract resources, especially oil. While sprawl
and oil depletion are not necessary, they are more profitable than a car-free
functionally integrated city. Under the current rules of doing business, waste
returns more than efficiency. We let a few privatize rent -- ground rent and
resource rent -- although rent is a social surplus. As if rent were not profit
enough, winners of rent have also won further state favors -- tax breaks, liability
limits, subsidies, and a host of others designed to impel growth (20 major
ones follow herein).
If we are to sustain our selves, our civilization, and our eco-system, we
must make some hard choices about property. What we decide to do with rent, whether we let it
reward our exploiting or our attaining eco-librium, matters. Imagine
society waking up to the public nature of rent. Then it would collect and share
its surplus that manifests as the market value of sites, resources, the spectrum,
and government-granted privileges. Then we could forego taxing labor and capital.
On such a level playing field, this freed market would favor efficiency --
the compact city -- not waste -- the mall and automobile. ... read the whole article