Finer points aside, nobody has offered a specific and coherent and realistic more efficient and equitable alternative for public revenue than land rent or land value.

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  • Dang Nabbit

    Finer points aside, you have made no case for taxation in the first place. The persons in control of the taxing power will use it to exempt themselves and friends while wielding it against their enemies. At the very least, whatever Georgist intent remains is not applied to the taxers. They gain privilege–monopoly even– in the attempt to institute a way to void monopoly. What of the land where the taxing office sits? The employees’ land? 

    An insurmountable problem develops, further. Taxes collected become disconnected from the social coordination of push and pull demand on scarce resources– the price system if you will.  There was no rational exchange during the tax process. It is an inherent misallocation when seen in connection with a smooth modern  functioning social division of labor.

    • wmyl

      “The persons in control of the taxing power will use it to exempt themselves and friends while wielding it against their enemies”

      How is that different from what you would propose?

  • Nathan Byrd

    A collective shrug from all those libertarians who don’t see much of a role, if any, for public revenue.  This land symposium has surprised me in that it shows how many libertarians have no real problem with the state.  It’s just a matter of wonkish policy tinkering.  They don’t actually hate the state in any meaningful sense.  They just want it more efficient, more well-managed.

    • good_in_theory

      ‘This land symposium has surprised me in that it shows how many libertarians are not anarchists.’

      • Nathan Byrd

        One can be a non-anarchist libertarian and hate the coercive nature of states.  While I don’t find the position convincing, there are minarchists who believe in a voluntarily funded public system, not one based on coercive taxation.  I think anarchism is a more viable and consistent version of libertarianism, but it’s not a requirement.  Some of the libertarian proposals come across as far more totalitarian than what we currently have, though, so that is certainly disturbing.

        • Alex Strekal

          Anarchism isn’t a “version of libertarianism”. And if by “libertarianism” we mean “libertarianism in the contemporary, American, liberal sense of the term”, the two actually have tension with each other.

          • Nathan Byrd

            If libertarianism is something close to the NAP, then it requires extra work to show that others may forcibly extract payment from you without it being aggression.  Perhaps you think that’s an easy task, though.  If the contemporary, American, liberal sense of the term has little or nothing to do with the NAP, then you’re probably right.

    • Jay_Z

      So suppose I just appropriate land and resources, kill, enslave, or drive away everyone else, and manage to hold it for some length of time.  But I don’t call myself a state.  Are you down with that?  If not, what do you propose to do about it?

      • shemsky

        I’m not down with that, no matter what you would call yourself. I could either fight or run (or stay away). But what if you call yourself a state, and have a further advantage of being perceived as being the legitimate authority? Would that make it easier or harder for you to be overcome?

      • Nathan Byrd

        You can call yourself whatever you like.  It’s not a dispute about labels.  There are lots of people who have done what you describe, and depending on the situation, there might be nothing anyone can do about it.  But at the very least, let’s not pretend that that legitimizes the actions, and let’s certainly not say that “at least it’s not anarchy,” as if having a monopoly provider of violence is the best and highest form of human society.

        • david3368

          If ancient appropriation doesn’t legitimize modern ownership, there’s a hell lot of people out there who don’t legitimately own a lot of the stuff they think they do.

          • Nathan Byrd

            Very true, and the legitimate course of action would be to return property to anyone with a clear ownership claim (either by rightful acquisition or inheritance of such) or provide compensation.  That’s not a particularly new idea in libertarianism.

          • Alex Strekal

            It’s certainly a problematic idea once we introduce the factor of intergenerationality (I.E. once the “original owners” are long dead, and the libertarian is typically forced to fall back on recognizing the legitimacy of current ownership titles anyways).

          • Nathan Byrd

            Agreed, though it’s hard to find a clear, non-arbitrary rule for where those claims cut off.  But compensation from the estate of those who committed the violations might be the next best alternative, if such estates still exist.  Otherwise, there’s not a lot that could be done to rectify things.

          • david3368

            Well, this isn’t difficult. Current Supreme Court interpretation holds that aboriginal title can be extinguished via purchase, treaty (even fraudulent), or conquest. We need only go through the cases of non-purchased land and start seizing it from their current holders, who have clearly inherited land from people who were not entitled to it in the first place, and give it to identifiable descendents.

            Unfortunately Indian Removal taints most land west of the Appalachians, but such is history.

    • Jason

      Then you have not read Fred Foldvary’s proposal of geo-anarchism.

    • Jason

      Btw, anarchist Leo Tolstoy proposed land value tax as a government policy he would have supported.

  • Zac Gochenour

    Fred, in our paper Bryan and I point out the obvious alternative: taxing negative externalities: taxes on pollution, congestion, and violent and property crime. Even if the LVT really was non-distortionary, pigouvian taxes are in some ways even better than a free lunch. I’d prefer a world of no taxes, but this would be the economically sensible place to start.

    • david3368

      Pigou only cares about efficiency of allocation, not its justice – taxing a public bad (e.g., pollution) may restore the efficient level of pollution, but the people who might be suffering due to the pollution are not compensated. Indeed, if you use negative externalities as a revenue source, then you must not be compensating them – you accept that they have no moral claim to either escaping pollution nor being compensated for enduring it.

      There’s no obvious reason why this is any more (or less!) desirable than Georgist taxation, which likewise maintains efficient allocation but simply denies assorted individuals their claim to rent. It is exactly as economically sensible.

      By Pigou-taxing a bad you are necessarily ruling out Coasean private solutions, too (aka the ability for someone situated to be a polluter to convert this position to a stream of rent, much the same as land). Both of these are bald assertions over the justice of allocations, legitimized only to the extent the state is.

    • Dang Nabbit

      “I’d prefer a world of no taxes…”   C’mon. Are you running for office? Is this George Mason/Cato political speak?  If you don’t want taxes then prove that they are unnecessary and work toward that end. 

      • No

         Sorry to be late, but placing the burden of proof on someone who OPPOSES a public policy is backwards.

    • Ben Jamin’

      Excluding other people from a location is an externality. The compensation set for this is the rental value of land, of which, because we are all equally excluded, should get an equal share.

      Simples :)

  • Rick DiMare

    OK, I’ll give it a shot. 

    With my central goal of stopping the treatment of wages as income and making wages the personal property of the wage earner that it is Constitutionally supposed to be under the Direct Tax Clauses (to advance libertarian notions of self-owner/authorship), I propose the following public revenue scheme, but only if the existing currency-regulating income tax is phased out:

    (1) Land value tax (both federal and state):  to pay for things that support and defend property rights related to land, like land courts, title recording systems, police and fire protection, schools, etc.

    (2) Taxes on employer paid-out wages:  to cover employment related programs such as workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.

    (3) Taxes on income derived from property sources (such as rental income, interest and dividend income, profit from hiring labor, etc.):  as a substitute for Hillel Steiner’s tax on “the talented,” who may owe a duty of care to the disabled, incapacitated, minors, homeless, etc.

    (4) Indirect taxes on commodities:  to pay for maintenance of trade routes, sea lanes, roads, bridges, etc.

    (5) Taxes on income derived from corporate privilege (a non-property source):  to cover general government expenses (because corporations are essentially mini-governments).


  • Majors Bruce

    The whole concept of public property ineluctably leads to conflict and statism. To suggest it as a solution to some theoretical or practical problem about the justification of ownership or the allocation of resources is prima facie ludicrous.

    • Alex Strekal

      To suggest that everything must be treated as pure private property, as a kind of a priori presupposition, is prima facie ludicrous.

  • TracyW

    Finer points aside, nobody has offered a specific and coherent and realistic more efficient and equitable alternative for public revenue than land rent or land value.

    So why don’t states around the world rely exclusively on it? Given that it’s realistic and more efficient?  If your answer is that the landowners stop it all the time, doesn’t that imply that land value taxes are less realistic than what we do have? 

    • Rick DiMare

      Exclusive reliance on the land value tax in Henry George’s day was a real possibility because money was primarily entering the economy through human labor (and the U.S. was finally able to remove the value of the slaves’ labor from real estate). Yes, gov’t was in bed with some private enterprise, so money was being spent into the economy that way, too, but the Treasury Department was the leading player and market prices (especially for land) were relatively stable and sent a reliable “signal” to the market.

      However, today the privately-owned central bank has near unlimited discretionary power to spend money into existence as it pleases, it leads Congress around by the nose, and the coercive currency-regulating income tax is used to fear induce us into recognizing “value” in the currency. There is a great possibility that current land and real estate prices have nothing to do with reality.

      • TracyW

        Well that’s a rather US-focused explanation. NZ for example has a publicly-owned central bank, why isn’t it reliant entirely on a land-value tax? 

        And why did you put the scare quotes around “single tax” and “signal”? Your explanation is confusing enough even assuming normal meanings of the words signal and single tax. 

        • Rick DiMare

          I’d have to study the NZ constitution to see if was truly capable of creating a publicly-owned bank. Usually telling people the banking system is publicly-owned or “nationalized” really doesn’t mean that, i.e., usually there are still private shareholders or private parties directing expenditures.  

          In contrast, based on the corporate model, the U.S. Constitution creates a fully public people-owned legal entity (called the federal gov’t), then gave it an exclusive money creation power “to coin money” (but the power to issue non-coin money is not exclusive, which is why it can be delegated).Georgists are sometimes called “single taxers” because at one point Henry George apparently believed only the LVT would be necessary. (I’ll remove the scare quotes on “signal” but I also want to put quotes on “scare quotes.”)

          • Tracyw1

            There isn’t a written NZ constitution, so I don’t see what would stop it from creating a publicly-owned bank. 

            But if the argument is that there are private parties directing central banks expenditures in every country around the world, doesn’t that indeed argue that land value taxes aren’t that “realistic and more efficient”?

            Thank you for removing the scare quotes, I still don’t follow your argument. Does a land value tax rely on stable market values? Why? Wouldn’t a land value tax be paid in a particular currency, and thus create the same incentive for recognising value in that currency as an income tax does? What do current land prices have to do with this?  Doesn’t a land value tax work by adding up the required costs of government, dividing by the unimproved value of land (or whatever the measure is), and sending the landowners a bill in proportion to their relative landownership? I don’t see how changing  land prices affect that process.

          • TracyW

            Sorry, I managed to somehow login as a guest rather than my disqus profile. 

          • Rick DiMare

            Since money is strictly a legal convention or legal construct—i.e., it is what a country’s constitution declares it to be—we must know what discharges debt because almost everything else bankers in that country use will not discharge debt, but will be debt.

            Good questions, but I don’t believe the land value tax can work when the central bank has such extraordinary power to create money at will. Money is supposed to be tied to human labor in some meaningful way. This (scare quotes) “grounds” the system. 

            And, of course under Lockean theory there’s a special relationship between labor and land that determines when a (mental or physical) laborer acquires near-exclusive access rights to land. 

          • TracyW

            I still don’t follow.

    • Rod Engelsman

      You could similarly ask why we don’t see any real-world examples of either anarchist or minarchist “states” ‘that everyone here seems to want and believe to be the best idea since sliced bread.

      I guess it just ain’t realistic, huh?

      • shemsky

        You mean like why hasn’t anyone found a cure for cancer? Is that not realistic either?

      • TracyW

        Yes, I’ve often thought that when reading anarchists’ and minarchists’ writings.  

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