The [Land Value Tax] strikes at the heart of the land monopoly. In a powerful speech, Winston Churchill said, “Land monopoly is not the only monopoly, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies — it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly.” It is the essence of feudalism and for all of our supposed social progress we’ve yet to be free from it. Unless and until the land monopoly is destroyed, the positive effects of virtually all economic reforms and even philanthropy is largely nullified. (Edward Miller, “The Only Economic Reform Worth Talking About“)
The Only Economic Reform Worth Talking About is, according to Miller, a shift to a Land Value Tax (a kind-of straight tax on the land itself, regardless of “property improvements” – also known as natural rent). Another way to think about this is not so much as a tax on land owners, but we the people charging rent for use of the commons.
It’s an interesting notion. I’m trying to reconcile it with the notions I’ve expressed before about taxing the bad stuff rather than the good stuff. So I’m wondering, is land ownership bad stuff to be taxed, or good stuff to be incentivized?
I’ve heard the proposition that the best way to protect land is to have it owned by someone in perpetuity and pass it to their descendants, so that they have an incentive to steward it in ways compatible with its long-term viability. The Nature Conservancy does most of its work by purchasing land in order to protect it, and it does seem to work in this system. But I’m far from convinced that it’s the only way to protect land, or even the best option.
[Sam: ]”That’s the kind of thinking that got Manhattan sold for a box of beads.”
[Coyote:] “So they still tell that story? It was one of my best tricks. They gave us many beads for that island. They didn’t know that you can’t own land.”
(Christopher Moore, Coyote Blue )
I confess, I’m largely with Coyote on this issue. The idea that anyone owns the land is ludicrous. This generation is using it now, future generations will use it later, but my gut reaction is that the land, any land, should not be “owned”; as humans, we should take care of it, perhaps take responsibility for it, but in no way can we actually take it.
I’m a little more comfortable with rent than ownership, I suppose. So, how would charging rent to any and all land tenants help the cause of sustainability? Could this facilitate both greater equity among people and better stewardship of all the land and all its denizens (especially the non-human ones and the generations not yet born)? Can we up the rent on those whose stewardship neglects these considerations?
In the money culture, will a Land Value Tax encourage care and protection of the living world while providing equitably for the people (present and future) who depend on it?